Messin’ With The Music Part 23 – ‘A Forest’

We’re back with another acoustic cover for you in the ‘Messin With The Music’ series. This time we worked on ‘A Forest’ by The Cure. ‘A Forest’ is from the band’s second album ‘Seventeen Seconds’ which was released in 1980. The Cure has created a lot of different types of music since they were formed in 1978. This song was from their early period when they were considered ‘goth’ or ‘post-punk’. This is the second Cure song we’ve worked on having previously covered ‘The Lovecats’. We haven’t done as many cover songs lately, although we’re getting back in to the flow. We did follow our usual methodology of doing each individual track straight through so it has the feel of a ‘live’ take. We again used all acoustic instruments other than the bass guitar which is run in to a pre-amp then directly in to the mixing board. For this song there are two acoustic guitars doing the same part which are panned hard left and right. There is a twelve string guitar as well as banjo and mandolin. We did two tracks for the vocals to make it sound a little richer. All the pictures we use in these videos are generate by us. These photos are from Redwood National Park. It’s a wonderful place to go if you want to spend some time hiking through a forest.

May 2023 Grapevine

It’s been a pretty nice spring in our area. We often have a season that goes from 50 degree days then jumps directly in to the 80 degree summer. It’s been refreshing having some time of 70 degree days and cool nights. I’m enjoying it while I can because I certainly don’t expect it to continue. The year 2023 continues to cruise by. Quickly. It’s interesting to remember lyrics to songs that I heard when I was growing up that didn’t mean much then and I’ve come to understand now. I remember when Pink Floyd released the album The Dark Side Of The Moon. I was just hitting my teenage years and we were all fans of the band’s music. The album stayed on our play lists (and the charts) for many years. You knew the words by heart. But I didn’t really think in ‘life’ terms about what the lyrics were really saying. I listen to the song ‘Time’ now and the lyrics are somewhat chilling for me. “You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today And then one day you find ten years have got behind you No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun” “Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines”. Yikes!! Who wouldn’t love to go back to those days when years seemed to last forever? As you get older you try to make the most of your time, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. One thing I don’t do is live in the past musically. That’s one reason for the Grapevine. It helps me search through new music and has introduced me to artists I would not have heard otherwise. Hopefully it does the same for anyone out there who reads our blog posts.

First Up: Cliff And Ivy – ‘Fossil Fuel’

The band bills themselves as ‘Alaska’s Goth Duo’. Honestly, with periods of the year where you don’t see the sun, I would think that Alaska would lend itself to dark, goth music. Everything about this song and video is fun (yes, I consider dark goth fun). There’s a lot of late 1970’s punk feel to it and the video and tune remind me of the band X (they have a newer release ‘Bring Us The Night’ that has a quicker, punkier sound to it). It’s really a well produced, crisp recording. Very straight forward, driving drum beat. Nice snap to the snare drum. The bass line pins itself to the drum beat and adds a presence to it. The fuzzed out rhythm guitar is not overblown in the mix but is another driving force. Keyboards and synth add atmosphere as they come in and out of the mix. And atmosphere is a big part of the song. Lead guitar parts are leveled in with the rest of the mix and add more to the feel of the song than a big in your face presence. Lead vocals are also more in the mix but are still at a level where you can pick up lyrics. Backing vocals almost sound like another synth, high, airy and slathered with reverb and delay. Some cool changes in dynamics throughout with instruments dropping in and out of the mix. Definitely ‘black light’ music. I think the overall mix is well thought out and achieves the goal of creating a dark, moody presence. The video is wonderfully DIY and fits the song perfectly. It was filmed at a glacier in Alaska – awesome. Nothing better than a band who takes control of their music and video and gets to create their own vision.

Next Up: Piroshka – ‘V.O.’

This song fits pretty well in to the wonderful world of ‘shoegaze’. As with any genre, there can be a lot of variety. A lot of shoegaze puts the swirling guitars and keyboards way out front in the mix and often buries the vocals and drums a lot deeper. In ‘V.O.’ the guitars swirl and keep their own time using delay and an ocean of special effects. The guitar is basically the canvas that the rest of the song’s picture is painted on. To make the guitar fit cohesively in with the rest of the song you have to get the timing of the delay and other effects correct – that makes the song flow. If you present the guitar oscillations out of time with the drums and the rhythm you have a whole different type of song. There’s other guitars that add to the effect with chimey chord arpeggios throughout. The keyboards give more presence to the music, with swells that rise and fall to add to the atmosphere. The drum work is great and deservedly has a higher place in the mix than you often hear in shoegaze. Lots of snap to the snare and some really tasty work on the cymbals. The bass is a bit deeper in the mix. You can hear it if you listen for it, but it functions more as a bottom end floor that’s another building block for the song. The vocals keep to the dreamy feel of the music but they are rightly placed fairly high in the mix. You can pick out lyrics in ‘V.O.’, something that doesn’t always happen in shoegaze songs. There are also other vocals sprinkled in the song that act as another instrument. The song has great mixing and production. I think the separation of instruments makes everything a bit more complex. You can sit back and enjoy the overall swirl of the music or pick up each instrument as a separate piece. A finely crafted and enjoyable piece of music.

Finally: Roy & The Devil’s Motorcycle – ‘Learn To Lose’

A lot of the ambience, feel and sound of a song has to do with the way it is produced. I think ‘Learn To Lose’ is a great example of this. The chord structure and changes are pretty simple. It pretty much follows a blues type structure. The rhythm and timing is also pretty straight forward. So what makes this song stand out more and attract attention? It’s the sonics used on each instrument and the way they are placed together in the mix. Let’s start with the guitars. You have a guitar in the right channel that is basically living in a swamp of feedback. It sounds like they’re taking the guitar, cranking distortion and having the guitar feedback through the amp while actively using a wah pedal. The guitar on the left side has more recognizable chord sounds, although they also have a lot of distortion on it too. In fact, distortion and feedback is a huge part of the overall production of this tune. The vocals come in and they also have a distorted quality to them. They’re placed much higher up in the mix. I’m not really sure if there is a bass in there, this might be all guitars (in watching the performance clips in the video it looks like three guitars on stage). The drums are also placed deep in the mix. The one piece of the drums that comes through clearly is the snare – but that is also fuzzy and distorted. There’s no changes or fills that break up the beat, just a relentless snare keeping time. So if there are kick drums or toms they’ve been kept out of or extremely low in the recording mix. The feel of the song is a crackly vocal placed on a bed of distortion. This is the intent of the song and the production. It’s probably an acquired taste for most people. The joy of sticking your head right in front of a buzzing amp.

Retro: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – ‘Blue Green Olga’

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has put out songs using a wide variety of musical styles. You can hear influences of punk, blues, noise rock, garage and and a number of other influences. ‘Blue Green Olga’ is from the album ‘Acme’ which was released in 1998. I think the song is probably one of their most accessible, stylistically, to most people. The lineup usually functioned as a three piece with two guitars and drums. For this song there is a great organ sound throughout as well as backing vocals sprinkled among the mix. I think what really grabs me is the wonderful, funky guitar riff that runs throughout the song. Another favorite part is the great snare sound. Lots of snap with a bit of distortion and just the right amount of reverb. These two pieces draw you in right from the beginning of the song then underpin everything else as the other instruments are added in. The vocals are upfront in the mix and yet don’t over power the rest of the instruments. One highlight of the arrangement is the break coming out of the chorus at 1:36 where the instruments drop out and leave the vocal alone before a cough and a second of silence bring in the rest of the instruments. The choruses also provide a nice change of pace with the cleaner sounding guitar playing the chord arpeggios. Another cool part of the song arrangement is it’s long run out at the end which starts at 2:35 and really takes up about a third of the entire song. Great funky breaks and drop outs. Who could ask for more.

Shine A Light On Me

In today’s world most people are used to being able to look for their favorite band on the internet and find some live videos of them. Back in the earlier days this wasn’t the case. Most people now hear about the Beatles or Rolling Stones appearing on the Ed Sullivan show and people being able to see the bands live for the first time. But for people like me who were fans of 70’s era’s rock music finding bands on TV was nearly impossible. There weren’t a zillion cable stations and streaming options where you could find almost everything you were looking for. We had network TV (three stations at the time) and more localized stations on UHF channels. You might find a band you liked on a variety show, but they often played to a backing track that had a watered down arrangement of the original song. Then in 1972 live music came to late night TV. Burt Sugarman, an independent producer, felt there was a late night audience interested in seeing bands play live. ‘The Midnight Special’ was on NBC and came on at 1:00 AM Friday after the Tonight Show (this idea spawned two other late night shows ‘In Concert’ and ‘Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert’). My obsession with rock music started at an early age before I could go to live shows and I remember the anticipation of being able to stay up late and see the bands whose records I was buying live on TV. Imagine having to wait for a late night TV show to be able to see your favorite band.

Burt Sugarman is still around and he’s finally put together an official YouTube channel to release individual songs and episodes from ‘The Midnight Special’ (there have been some inferior pirated copies on line for a while as well as some authorized DVDs and clips loaned to other TV shows like VH1). Sugarman always thought people would want to see these shows in the future so he continually transferred the original tapes of the shows to the newest technology available. As a result the quality of the video is great. All the shows had the bands playing live on stage. Since there were several bands on each episode there were multiple stages set up so the show could transition from one band to another without having to change out equipment on a single stage. When the second season started the TV network lined up FM stations who would simulcast the sound in stereo which was pretty hi tech at the time. ‘The Midnight Special’ YouTube channel is the first authorized presentations of these great performances. There were 48 weekly episodes a year from 1972 through 1981. They’ll be releasing new videos of shows and songs over time, but I wanted to give you a bit of a sampling of what you’ll see below. I’ll be following the channel looking forward to seeing performances and bringing back memories from a great time in musical history. I will probably highlight some more songs I like as they are released.

David Bowie – ‘The Jean Genie’ – November 16, 1973

The Byrds – ‘So You Want To Be a Rock n’ Roll Star’ – February 2, 1973

King Crimson – ‘Lark’s Tongues In Aspic Part 2’ – October12, 1973

Status Quo – ‘Big Fat Mama’ – April 19, 1974

April 2023 Grapevine

We’re at the end of the rainy month of April. At least we haven’t had a sudden freeze so we did have the joy of seeing the spring flowers bloom. Of course all the blooming added to the huge amount of pollen floating around the soup bowl of a valley we live in. I guess the moral you learn in the spring is that life and nature is a two sided coin. In spring there is the beauty of the flowers paired with the torture of the sinuses. So it goes with most things in life. This is another reason to indulge yourself in the beauty of artistic endeavors. There may be a negative side to it, but I’m not sure what that would be. Possibly it is the need to wade through a lot of selections to find music that you can really latch on to. But even that does not seem like a negative to me. As I scourer reviews and listen to different styles I always tend to hear something new. It may not end up being a style that does anything for me personally, but it’s always a learning experience. Even if a style of music does not make you want to delve in to it further, there’s always something to be learned. What instruments does the song use? How is the arrangement put together? Is there a style of mixing that defines the genre? What pieces can be used in the style of songs you are writing? When you listen to this month’s songs, keep those questions in mind – and keep an open mind. An open mind will open new doors and the other side of that door may contain an unexpected revelation.

First Up: Triptides – ‘Hand Of Time’

Listening to this song takes you back to the late sixties heyday of driving jangle rock. You can view it as ‘retro’, but that doesn’t distract from the beautiful way the instruments are combined to push the song forward. The driving foundation of the song is the drumbeat. If you listen to the kick drum in the beginning of the song, it almost sounds like a lower snare – tight and punchy. That sound along with the snare drum does the bulk of work moving the tune along. The snare is crisp with a little ‘dirt’ thrown in to add crunch. What’s also interesting in the percussion parts are the subtle pieces you can hear in the background if you really listen. If you listen closely you will hear what sounds like a shaker at the 1:15 mark. In any song it’s the little, subtle touches that you don’t notice consciously that make a difference. The guitars are split up nicely between the left and right channels with the left carrying a fuzzed out drone and the guitar in the right channel playing heavily reverbed single note lines throughout the song. The bass guitar is placed more towards the middle of the mix and keeps the song’s chord pattern steady. The bass sound and placement make a big difference in the song – just the right EQ, and mixed in so that it is perfectly audible without muddying up the rest of the instruments. There’s keyboards throughout the song which also add to the retro feel – a very 60s Farfisa sound. Finally the vocals are added directly in the middle. They’re upfront in the mix so you can catch all the lyrics with a little reverb and fuzz added. All this makes for a fun song for driving with windows down in the summer and a slight feeling of nostalgia for a musical time from the past.

Next Up: Maximo Park – ‘All Of Me’

For our next selection we’re sticking with the retro feel of early eighties indie rock. The drums here drive the tune throughout but are a bit more muted than in our previous selection. The song is built with dynamics that keep the verses a bit quieter and go full bore when the chorus starts. To add to the drive of the chorus sections a keyboard is added that plays a short consistent musical theme when it appears. For most of the song the bass keeps a steady pulse on the eighth notes echoing the keynote of the chord being played. The verses pull back on the volume a bit and are highlighted by the guitar playing the chords as arpeggios with some chorus and delay effects. The vocals and lyrics are absolutely highlighted in the song. They are upfront throughout and when the song picks up in volume during the choruses the vocals are doubled to keep them the main focus. In songs vocals have multiple purposes. They are an instrument and sometimes they are used for that only. But vocals also have a lyrical content and in many songs that is the main focus. Finally, the melody line may be the most important part of the vocals. There are songs where the lyrics are just OK, but the melody line is so powerful it commands the song and makes the lyrics seem much richer than they actually are. ‘All Of Me’ is a great example of a well crafted song that combines all of the elements in to create a fun, cohesive tune.

Finally: Bitter Defeat – ‘Long Lash’

We’re going to stick with the style we’ve listened to in the first two songs. I don’t usually have a theme style for the songs we review each month. For April, we’ve stuck with the indie rock sound throughout the three selections. Sometimes that happens due to the magazine I’m going through to find new songs, which is what happened for April. The instrumental lineup fits the bill here: two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums. We have a main vocal as well as some nice backup vocals to fill in the sound at certain parts of the song. The mix is pretty even, with each instrument having a presence in the song. There’s a guitar theme that is played throughout the song that acts as a counter melody when there are no vocals. As with the other songs in this style the bass keeps a consistent rhythm and stays mostly on the key notes of the chords. The mix between the vocals when the backups come in is well done. This can be trickier than you would think – you don’t want to overwhelm the main vocal and yet you want to have the secondary vocal loud enough that the harmony between them has a presence. The keyboard has the least noticeable sonic presence. It acts more as the ‘floor’ of the tune that all the other instruments are built on. One final interesting note is the drummer in the video playing his kit standing up. Not something you see very often and I’d love to know how that changes the feel of playing a kit.

Just Because – Billy Strings featuring Willie Nelson – ‘California Sober’

I’d usually throw a ‘retro’ tune in here, but this song just came out. What more could you ask for? Billy Strings and his band. Willie Nelson. Twisting a few up to keep ‘California Sober’. As always Billy and the band kick ass on the instruments with a few other guests appearing. This was written to celebrate Willie’s 90th birthday. We should all be so lucky as to be able to keep doing what we love when we’re turning 90. The smoke filled bus at the end of the video brings back fond memories (smaller vehicles, just as much smoke). If you have a chance to see either of these amazing musicians, don’t hesitate, just grab a ticket.

Live Music Report – Hoots & Hellmouth At The Sellersvillle Theater 04/12/23

On April 12 we got to see the band Hoots And Hellmouth at the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville PA. Our seats were literally a few feet from the stage, so we had a great view of the show. The band would be difficult to fit in to one category. My best guess would be calling them a combo of Americana, Rock and a bit of Folk music. I always appreciate a band that is difficult to label. The two front men, Sean Hoots and Rob Berliner both took turns on lead vocals for different songs. They’re energetic performers and moved a lot on stage adding to an already high energy show. Songs ranged from quieter ballads to high energy rock songs. For this show Bob Beach from the opening act David-Jacobs Strain and Bob Beach stayed on stage to play harmonica with the main act and added some great solos to the songs. In this smaller venue they had a lot of interaction with the crowd, which makes it feel like you’re part of the act and adds a more personal element to the entire show. I’ve added a video I found of them playing live on WXPN from July of 2021, plus another older video. For the show we saw the instrumental lineup was two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums and harmonica, which made for a bit bigger sound then you’ll see in the videos. Definitely a band you should see live to get the full impact of their music.