Saturday, November 30, 2013

a weekend, two shows and some inspiration

I saw two shows this weekend.

Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby performed at a place in New Jersey called the Art Garage. At this point, having seen and blogged about a bunch of Eric'n'Amy shows, there's not a whole lot else to say. The set list was a variation on what I've seen before, though this time they did include "Someone Must Have Nailed Us Together" and "Young, Upwardly Mobile and Stupid" from Eric's days in The Len Bright Combo. I chatted with them before and after the show as well as during the brief intermission. We talked a bit about the experience recording with them. I really need to post a followup since I got the final recording of "Do You Think of Me (Now and Again)" about two and a half months ago. I also bought one of Eric's small paintings. "Guitar Player #9," which is apparently part of a series. See the picture accompanying this post. Something about it caught me. Eric told me not to frame it. He said that it's supposed to have a wire loop attached, and if I bring it to their house concert in January he'll attache the loop. Meanwhile I kind of like the idea of setting it on a small easel.

Yesterday ecvening I went to see the Wicked Messengers play at Hill Country, which is a barbecue restaurant in Manhattan. Alan Lee Backer, who is the leader of the Wicked Messengers (I hope I'm not getting in trouble for saying that. I don't know their internal band politics, and for all I know they never declared him the leader, but he appears to be the leader) is a favorite of mine. He was the author of The Twanglers' "Two Hearts (Tender, Lovin' and True)," which was a single on Diesel Only Records in the 1980s. And their drummer, Charlie Shaw (formerly of The Five Chinese Brothers) is my daughter's guitar teacher. That wasn't a show I had planned on going to. Or even known about long in advance. In the afternoon I texted Charlie about scheduling my daughter's next guitar lesson. Then, in the evening he texted something along the lines of "I should have told you earlier, but we're playing at Hill Country from 9:30 to midnight tonight. My wife, knowing I really wanted to go, encouraged me to. So we finished our errands, and I took the subway in. I was late -- I got  there at ten But they played until 1 AM. So I got in a three hour show (as well as some barbecue and nearly half a dozen Mexican Cokes). I keep wanting to think of the Messengers as a Country band, and certainly there's a lot of country in their repertoire, but they're also a damn good rock and roll bar band.

What I find interesting is that I often have songwriting inspirations while watching shows. And at both of these shows I had some. A couple ideas for song titles -- which may or may not turn into songs. And some good thoughts about how to work through some blocks I've hit on songs I'm in the process of writing. There's one in particular. Without going into detail, I've been trying for several years to write a psychobilly song called "Bleed Me a River." There have been some places I've gotten stuck, but I think I may have gotten unstuck. In the morning I'll try to think it through.

And, yes, I did say that I've been working on it for years. That's the way it always is for my songwriting. From first inspiration to finished song is always a matter of years. Partly because I lack training and partly because I don't really have a lot of time to devote to it. Between my day job (which does require more than 40 hours in a typical week) and having a family with three kids, I just can't be a full-time songwriter. So I get ideas. And I may jot down a title or a line. And I ruminate. I may be on the subway doing number puzzles. Or I may be driving. Or shopping. Or sitting at the dentist's office. But I'm thinking about a song. And sometimes I'll have an epiphany that leads to progress. And sometimes something will emerge finished.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

500 years in the making: a new musical instrument designed by leonardo

Something I find amazingly cool. Full article is here.

Apparently Leonardo Da Vinci conceived of and drew plans for a keyboard instrument that was never built during his lifetime. Or for nearly 500 years after his death. But now the plans have been found and dusted off, and the thing's been built. And so the world now has the "viola organista"

My take on it based on the sound in the video below and the description in the link above -- though I'm hardly an expert -- is that it is similar to a piano. But whereas playing the keys on a piano causes hammers to strike the strings, on the viola organista the strings are pushed against a wheel that is wrapped in horse tail hairs, similar to the bow. In addition, the player has to push a pedal to keep the bow-wheel moving. The effect sounds oddly like a string ensemble.

The video below shows the world premiere of the thing. It's the same video as in the article that I linked to.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

i guess i won't be supporting that kickstarter campaign

Last week I talked about Kickstarter, and the projects I've supported on it. One of the campaigns that caught my interest was that of Sonia Leigh, a country singer who is trying to raise money for her next album. For a $250 pledge she'll record a cover version of the song of your choice.

I had never heard of Leigh before this, so I'm not exactly a fan. But I found some of her stuff on Youtube and it's not bad. I contacted her through Kickstarter to find out if that "song of my choice" can be an unpublished song I wrote, so that I can use her recording as a demo. That was a week or so ago, and I haven't heard back. With her Kickstarter campaign ending less than 24 hours from now, I'm assuming that I won;t hear back. Which means that I won't be supporting her album.

Friday, November 1, 2013

my newest stuff from amazon

Four CDs came yesterday from Amazon. I figure I'll talk about them. As the gentle reader will realize, these are not reviews. They are what comes to mind. Some discussion of the music. Some reminiscence. Some other. Each is followed by a video of a song from the album. Enjoy.

In no particular order:

Nick Lowe: Quality Street
A disc of Christmas songs by the man formerly known as the Basher. This is similar in feel to Nick's last few albums, though it's not as catchy as the others. The arrangements are sparse, and the vocals are mixed far forward. His voice is as silky as its been. And there are nice guitars and all. But there's just not a whole lot to hold my interest. One thing I note, is that "I Was Born in Bethlehem" (video below) sounds sort of like a slow version of "If I Only Had a Brain (from The Wizard of Oz. The melody, that is. Not the words.

What I find most interesting about this album is the creepy cover. Nick standing with an aloof look, surrounded by nine grumpy people, one grump dog and one adoring woman in a Santa suit (is that the same woman who was on the cover of his prior album, The Old Magic?). I'd heard the whole album already since the label, Yep Roc made it available for streaming a few months ago. My opinion hasn't changed in the interim. The disc will probably grow on me, though. That's the way Nick Lowe albums are.

Candy: Whatever Happened to Fun...
When this first came out in 1985 I reviewed it for The Island-Ear, a Long Island based music and entertainment weekly (or was it bi-weekly?) tabloid. I wrote the following:
Despite their simplicity and sugar flavor, all of Candy's songs are upbeat, teenage anthems. For this reason, they may very well be the next Bay City Rollers—with all the positive and negative implications that go with such a label. Chances are that, if they get noticed at all, Candy will be looked down on by elitist fans of "serious" rock. If they're lucky, they'll enjoy a couple years as chart toppers before fading into obscurity.
God, I hate that review. I was right about that whole Bay City Rollers thing, though I missed the whole thing about them being "glam," which is largely how they're remembered today. It's hard to judge my assessment of "if they're lucky." They weren't lucky as a group.More on that in a minute. What's missing from the review was how much I just enjoyed the album. The anthemic songs stuck with me, and I still love them today -- though rethinking them, they're a bit darker than I remembered.

One new observation is that the sound is tinnier than I remembered. I'm not sure if that's a function of the recording or the remastering that went into the CD reissue. Another interesting fact, which I didn't know at the time -- though I couln't possibly have been expected to -- is that the guitarist, Gilby Clarke, would go on to be a member of Guns 'N Roses. Not that I am at all intrested in G'N'R. I just figured I'd mention it. Oh, and if this kind of thing interests you, I believe the infamous GG Allin did a cover of "Kids in the City, reinventing it as "Sluts in the City."

Trout Fishing in America: Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers
This is the only one of these four albums that I hadn't heard in advance (when you count hearing the vinyl version). I have to say I'm disappointed here. TFIA generally does really good kids music -- they seem to be the only one out there who do fun kids' tunes without letting the lesson get in the way of the fun. But their last several albums, this included haven't been up to their peak matrerial, which came, in my humble opinion, shortly after I first heard of them. The album, It's A Puzzle, with the sublime "Alien in My Nose," was great. After that? meh. My wife theorizes that it's because their kids are grown, and that when they have grandchilderen the creative juices will get better again. I certainly hope so. The one high point on the album is "Creepy Dead Bug," which isn't even theirs. Oh well.

Nervus Rex: Nervus Rex
I originally got this album on vinyl during one of my trips to St. Marks Sounds when I was in high school.  By way of background, my high school was in Manhattan, on 14th Street, between First and Second Avenues. St. Marls Sounds was a wonderful used record store on St. Mark's Place (the equivalent of 8th Street) between Third and Fourth Avenues.I never knew their exact system, but I did know that Sounds would reduce the prices on records that didn't sell. Their pricetags were circles, about two inches in diameter, with black and pink ink. But when they slapped on a big black and white rectangle with "25¢" on it, you knew the price had hit bottom. This was one of those albums that I decided to risk a quarter on, without really having any reference point. I guess I also liked the fact that the design screamed "New Wave" at the top of its lungs. It was OK. Not great. But I loved their cover of the Shocking Blue Classic, "Venus."

Some years later, after I was into The Washington Squares (a New York-based neo beatnick group), I noticed an uncanny resemblance between the women on the album covers and realized that New Waver Lauren Agnelli of Nervus Rex had become beatnik Lauren Agnelli of The Washington Squares. I alwauys find it interesting when someone whose music I've liked in one context shows up in a new one. By now, of course, Agnelli has moved on in other directions. I think I have an album of her and Dave Rave, but I can't recall what it sounds like. If memory serves she has had at least one solo outing. I wonder what they sound like?

Anyway, even though this album never did knock my socks off, I found it for like $2 on Amazon (which, adjusting for inflation, is probably not that far off a quarter at Sounds). So I bought it largely to re-experience that cover of "Venus." Lo, it's better than I remembered. Lots of catchy quirky new wave hooks. They really deserved better than the ignominy they got.