December 12th, 2010

Have you ever lost your keys in the couch? Or even had them in your hands while you frantically looked everywhere for them? Yeah, me too! I lost a few months here, but now I’ve found my way back.

Sitting down to write tonight, I find myself in Nashville, TN. The past months blew by out the open windows of a moving van and the winds of change that a new home in Music City has brought – and with it a wealth of things to share.

I can’t recount it all here at once, so I’ll go with the more recent of adventures here. Nashville is home to the headquarters of Third Man Records, an independent record label founded by Jack White. On 7th Avenue South, it hosts a record store and performance venue as well.

I found my way over there a couple of Thursdays ago, and for an order of five dollars, I was admitted through the back doors and into the small red-lit room, where we saw Reggie Watts, a fantastically hilarious comedian, beat boxer, and musician, who not only brought laughter and chaos to Third Man that night but also a comfort and curiosity at his mastery of the crowd and stage.

The show was recorded directly to analog reel to reel and available to purchase exclusively on vinyl after the show for only those who attended. I will freely admit that as I walked out I went directly around to the record shop in front of the building to do just that, as well as setting a reminder in my phone to send my turntable down to Tennessee from home over the holidays. I  also purchased tickets for the next show coming up.

It’s pretty incredible, revolutionary even, the scene there at Third Man. I attended an incredible show, at a great venue, where I felt like I got to be a part of it, rather than a spectator. And I left with a piece of it, or at least a receipt to pick up the record when it’s pressed, rather than just a ticket stub.

I have been forming a list of places I’ve been to in Nashville, a ‘keepers’ list you could say, and Third Man Records has officially been added. Kudos to you and I will see you soon.

More to come on Nashville soon. Keep a close eye on your keys.

Music De Cuisine

April 27th, 2010

So, I consider myself pretty lucky. I spend most of my day surrounded by music. I am not a cog in the wheel of the “biz”, but rather a fan. A fan of all kinds of music. I also consider myself a student of song craft. I love the way words and music come together to form an entirely new way of communicating. So much can be expressed through the combined vehicle of lyric and melody. Honestly, it can be really amazing.

I have often thought that songs are a lot like cooking. I believe it is best if one can concentrate on securing the freshest ingredients, and then simply get out of the way. Let the flavors do their own thing. I think the same can be said about songs. A great idea left to simmer in the stew of plain language can be the most fragrant and satisfying treat for the listener.

Some of my favorite songs, and whole records, are couched in the simplicity of great songs. From country to pop, this seems to hold true. I am not in anyway dismissing the intricate and complex production features of modern pop records, or the sweetly lavish packaging of mid-1960s era Nashville records. In fact, I believe that in some cases the elements of production can serve as a kind of sub-text. An alternate, yet reinforcing commentary on the song as whole.

Ok, that sounded like a whole lot of English Lit 101 posturing, so lemme try to explain.

As I said, I think that great cooking and great songs have a lot in common. And I think that holds true for the production of a song as well. I like to think of the production of a song as being akin to a sauce. It must support the flavor of that which it accompanies without taking over the show. It must share some of the same features of the primary element, and perhaps provide a highlight from time to time. I do not think it should ever out shine the flavor of that which it supports.

In other words, I don’t think that production can save a song that is in trouble. I know there are cases in which production is used to mask the undercooked flavor of an inferior song, and that is just plain disappointing. It is like going to a fancy restaurant and being served a greasy, poorly cooked burger on a finely decorated platter. It just falls flat.

Luckily there is so much great music and production out there. Some of it may fly just under the radar of our normal daily routine, but I believe it is worth taking the time to search out. Much like hunting for that great new restaurant that is off the beaten path, it can be harrowing, and sometimes sick-making. However, when you find something that rings true to, something that makes chills run up and down your spine, it is so so worth it.

Don’t we all owe it to ourselves to eat well, and listen well?

Record Shop

April 19th, 2010

I learned onTwitter that was Saturday was the 3rd Annual Record Store Day. How cool! I never heard of this before, so I was already behind by two years. I had to move fast.

As I made my way to one of the only two or three remaining independent record stores in the area, I was struck at how important record stores were in my musical education. I used to spend hours flipping through the stacks of CD’s, looking at the cover art and wondering what kinds of sounds were hidden behind those images. (Yes, by the time I got on the scene there were not so many “records” in record stores). I remembered asking a million questions of the good people who worked in those stores, and soaking up the information like a sponge. The amount of information that the scruffy, kinda salty and sullen employees possessed was immense. They knew something about every single record in the place. They could get lost in the tiny details of their favorite records, and often launch into lengthy debate with each other, as well as with customers. Most of all, they could really answer the question “What’s the story with this record?” The independent record shop people could really share some knowledge, if you were willing to listen.

I finally did get to the record store on Saturday, and I had a blast! I flipped through the racks of CD’s and was even really excited to see more vinyl on the shelves than I ever anticipated. (Vinyl has been steadily making a comeback of the past few years, or so I am told). I also enjoyed chatting with the record man behind the counter. I felt like I was a kid again. It was great!!

As I left the store with a fist full of goodies, I began to wonder why it felt so good to buy music in a store as opposed to the absolute lack of feelings I have about downloading an album from iTunes, for example. The music is the same. It stands on its own two feet. It either strikes me or it doesn’t. But there is something about the experience a record store offers that imbues the whole transaction with magic.

I was at a loss to explain this mystical phenomenon until much later that night, while at my usual late-night hang, a friend of mine, in a totally unrelated conversation, uttered the word “curator”. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Of course! The good souls who spend their days behind the counters at records stores are actually the curators of a living and breathing body of musical work. They are in some small part responsible for documenting, categorizing and in some cases offering their opinions about music. It’s a wholly human interaction. Imperfect and sometimes totally unfulfilling, but human none the less.

As my brain spun on this idea of curators, I wondered how these people fell into this position. How do people choose (or do they actively choose) to dedicate such a serious portion of their lives to the art of listening to, and collecting information about, records?

Could it be that these folks are simply fans? Professional fans and lovers of good music?

I think so and I say thank you!

Thank you for your passion, and love of music. Thank you for your opinions and recommendations. Thank you to all the people who spent, and continue to spend, their days and nights as the curators of music. Thank you for the hours of music, both good and bad, I have had the pleasure to experience at your suggestion.

Viva la record store!

Ten Dollars Revisited

April 13th, 2010

Have you ever found $10 bucks in an old pair of jeans, or a winter coat closeted from the previous season?

It’s a pretty cool feeling, huh?

Well yesterday I had kind of a similar experience with an album. While I am aware that the term “album” is a little archaic, I think it is still extremely applicable in the this case.  I was reminded of a record that I loved, played and lost some time ago. The album of which I speak in is none other than Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited.

Not the most original source for exposition ever. In fact, I imagine that all the words that needed to be written about this record have been written two times over. However, I was so thrilled to find myself re-introduced to this record after a period of absence. First, lemme say that I was not even a thought in anyone’s head when the record came out, so I have no real connection to the time, space or air in which it was born. I came across it on my own during the early part of my musical education and it immediately struck me.

There is something to be said about the raw and unpolished vibe of this record. Sonically it is a dirt road that travels through some of the coolest lyrical scenic settings I have ever seen. As I said, I will not attempt re-hash what has already been said about this record by people with far better paying vocabularies. All I can say it that it’s cool as hell.

What really hit me, as I listened with fresher ears, was the words. Everyone knows that Dylan is a master of words, but his skill is not what grabbed my attention this time. It was the number of words. The sheer volume. This dude packs A LOT of words into each verse. And it’s awesome! It is like he has the capacity for never-ending breath and an ever-evolving story. Perhaps it was during this listen that I finally “got it”. I finally understood the “magic” of Bob Dylan. Perhaps I was just a lot later in getting there than everyone else. I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, when I picked up this album again it hit me harder and with much more force than it ever had. And I am so glad.

It was the best $10 I ever found.

For the People, By the people

April 9th, 2010

So, we jumped in car and hit the road for the “Big Apple” to see Miike Snow. If you don’t know about this band, it’s a pretty cool collaboration between Andrew Wyatt and the bad ass Swedish pop genius of Bloodshy & Avant (all the info).

They traffic going into the City was a little thick, so it took far longer than expected, but we made it with just enough time to grab a couple slices at Two Boots Pizza, and head over to the Bowery Ballroom.

The show was pretty good. The opening act was not my favorite, and Miike Snow delivered as well as a hybrid electronic/live band can on a stage. (That’s a whole other story….and I will get to it.)

What really struck me about this show was the fact that the joint was sold out. Not only that, it was the third show in NYC that week, and they were all sold out. Forget for a moment that the songs are pretty good, and that two of the members helped write such tasty pop treats as “Toxic” and “Speakerphone”. The idea that an essentially “indie” band based in Sweden could sell out some great venues in NYC was really impressive. At least to me.

The ride home was arduous at best. It rained like hell. It was during this blurry white-knuckled skid-fest that I began to think. I began to ask myself how I heard about this band? How did I know they exist?

While I consider myself an avid listener of new music (as I believe all songwriters should be), I began to re-trace the steps that led me to see this show. I found that my journey began with a remix. Well, that is not entirely true. The journey began with a pile of remixes. I got hip to Miike Snow as the result of a very cool marketing effort in which they allowed, and encouraged, all manner of remix of the lead single “Animal”.

In fact, there was a period of about a month when I could not click my mouse or check my email without tripping over yet another remix of that track.

I began to think about how that simple offering, that really simple concept not only created fans, but also created a vested interest of a whole bunch of folks. It’s realistically possible that some people in the audience that night had not actually ever heard the “album version” of these songs. Rather they had fallen in love with a remix from another artist they are into, or maybe even someone they know. I also began to wonder how many people in the house may have done a remix themselves. Talk about a great friggin’ reason to grab a ticket and go to a show. They would not only be fans, but may feel a shared sense of ownership. They have gotten up close and personal with some of these tracks in the laboratory of their own creative space. How cool is that?!

This line of thinking eventually led me to wonder what kind of effect this would have on the craft of producing records. I began to imagine what things would look like if we made the “bones” of a song available to the public to “produce”. What if we put the lyric and harmonic foundations of a song into the hands of anyone who wants to shape and mold it into a finished track? Isn’t that the height of collaboration? Isn’t that also the pinnacle of inviting fans into the artists realm and allowing them “special access”?

Would this process build a more loyal and dedicated fan-base, or would it have the opposite effect? Would it somehow rub the luster off of being a fan?

Kind of an interesting thought, no?

SHAME Burger

April 8th, 2010

I found myself, quite happily, at the very end of the Italian Market in South Philly the other day. Right at the crossroads of 9th and Catherine Sts.

On this corner is a new lil’ joint called The Wishing Well. It’s a small corner bar looking kinda place, but don’t be fooled my its seemingly innocent exterior. Inside those walls there lives a new manner of burger that totally blew me away.

They call this bad boy the SHAME Burger. I was told what all the capital letters stand for, but I was just not listening. Sorry.

Anyway, this burger…right. It’s a combination of ground beef topped with a layer of scrapple (look it up if you don’t know and then curse your fates for everyday of your life that you lived without it) and cheese, further adorned with a wonderfully gooey fried egg! Dear gawd!

There are so few adjectives that properly describe how good this thing is. I am at a loss to even try. I can say that once this meaty goodness hit the table, all conversation stopped. Beautiful digestive silence punctuated by the periodic grunt of total satisfaction.

Yeah man. Good food!

I should also point out that there are other tasty treats on the menu, lest you get the idea that this is “just some burger joint”. My dining companion had a pork belly entree that was really and truly something special, and we both dipped our forks into a mushroom and polenta appetizer that was bangin’.

In short, if you are in the neighborhood….no….GET THEE to the neighborhood and try some of this food. It’s just plain good.