We’ve reached the middle of 2022 and the year is just rolling by. It’s the time of year when you can take stock of the first half to see what you’ve accomplished and set your goals for the second half. The first half of this year has felt very unsettled. I’m hoping to make a bigger push to get more accomplished in the second half. As you get older you find that the idea of time moving faster as you age becomes a truth. How did half the year pass by already? When I was younger and first listened to the song ‘Time’ from Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ I understood what they were saying but the lyrics seemed much more abstract. Now they seem prophetic in relation to my real life. In the second verse we get “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”. The phrase “I’ll get to it later” is typical of how we feel when we’re young. Then, in what seems like no time at all, you’re older and you can see the limited time left – “Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time, plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines, hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way, the time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say”. Years can drag when you’re young and speed by when you’re older. By now you might be saying, “boy, you’re sure a ray of sunshine”. But my point would be what I’ve probably opined before in a lot of blog posts. Listen to new things. Create without being afraid of what other people think. Throw stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Enjoy the act of creation instead of worrying if anyone else will accept it. Live your life as fully as you can. So let’s listen to our selections for this month and celebrate the creative force of others.
First Up: Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway – ‘Big Backyard’
It’s been a somewhat dark last couple of years. So I find it very enjoyable to listen to an upbeat song with a positive message. On this song we’ll start with the message. We come from different areas and different backgrounds but rather than fence ourselves in we should open up our different lives to each other. When you’re writing lyrics and want to get a message across, you have to make sure that the vocals are placed prominently in the mix and are easy to hear. The way this song is designed the music is the canvas and the vocals are the picture painted on it. After you take the song in as a whole, go back and listen to everything that’s going on instrumentally. It’s a very full arrangement. The fiddles are often running melody lines in the background. You can hear the same going on with mandolin, guitar and banjo. Mixing a song like this is pretty tricky. The instruments have to have enough clarity and presence that you can pick them out and listen to what they are doing. But they also have to be melded together to act as that canvas for the vocals. The instruments played here are very percussive so you wouldn’t always hear drums in a song like this. So having drums in this song also required a very good ear to have them placed correctly in the mix. They’re a little more in the background then you’d hear in a lot of songs, but for this song it’s definitely the proper placement. I think if you’ve ever spent time behind a mixing console (or even if you haven’t) you can really appreciate the work that goes in to getting all the instruments in the perfect place to make this song work.
As an addition I wanted to include another song ‘She’ll Change’ from the same album ‘Crooked Tree’. This is a live version where you get to see what everyone is playing. Very well recorded with nice separation considering they’re playing together in the same room. Great vocal harmonies. And there’s some really fun fast picking though out the song. Tuttle does some incredibly fast guitar picking while still keeping the guitar chords going and doing lead vocals. She’s won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s guitar Player Of The Year Award twice and you can see why. It’s always fun to see what everyone is playing and the fact that they can do this live without studio overlays or punch ins.
Next Up: The Hanging Stars – ‘Ava’
The Hanging Stars present a great combination of styles on their song ‘Ava’. For me, that’s what makes music interesting. A little country, a little shoegaze, a little space rock with a lot of well done instrumental passages. The song starts slowly with what sounds like pedal steel guitar and slide guitar. They bring in acoustic guitar slowly strumming arpeggio chords. This intro builds over the first minute of the song. Drums enter the mix and the the slide guitar plays a melody line for the next thirty seconds. It’s a great intro that pulls you in to the song structure before the vocals even come in. The vocals are awash in reverb to maintain the spacey feel of the song. The vocals go back and forth with the slide guitar taking turns carrying the melody. There is a bass guitar in the background along with the drums. By keeping the instruments a little deeper in the background of the song, the emphasis is kept on the melodic pieces – the top guitar and vocals. For the much of the song the vocals are multi tracked to add more depth. If you listen closely you can hear some of the vocals panned out to the left and right channels. As usual, I’d always suggest listening to the songs in headphones or ear buds to get the full effect of the mix. If you listen you can hear the bass line matching the vocal line in the chorus. There are wordless vocals that act more as an instrument when we get in to the later verses. The drums play very active lines through out the song, but they are mixed in a soft rather than crisp manner so they don’t step on the vocals and melodic guitar. This is a great example of adjusting your mixing technique to fit the mood you want to present in the song. The song ends with a little more emphatic and less breezy guitar part. A great example of structuring a song composition and mix to present a beautifully cohesive idea.
Finally: Field Works – ‘Station 5’
What I find most interesting about the song is the way it is created and composed. It is a interesting combination of science and art. The EarthScope project uses a number of measuring devices to track noise, movement and other geological functions in different areas. There is a lot of useful earth based data collected that is being reviewed for a wide variety of scientific ideas about continental structure and evolution as well as fault and earthquakes processes. Many of the tests record ambient seismic noise. The data from EarthScope projects is publicly accessible. Field Works combines this earth based ambient noise with music. In this song the music is also somewhat ambient. There are electronic pulses and synth based melodic pieces. All these pieces form a bed of sound that have vocals added. The vocals are in keeping with the sonics of the rest of the song. There are no lyrics added that would distract from the feeling that is being created with the instruments and ambient earth based noise. I imagine a lot of people would use this as background for meditation or just to sit back in the dark and relax. It’s always great to see people stretching the boundaries of music and songs. The ideas could also be used to add flavor to more conventional song structures. It’s cool to sit back and listen to this and realize that part of what you’re hearing is the earth ‘talking’.
Retro: Joni Mitchell – ‘Coyote’
Joni Mitchell is an artist who’s pretty hard to pin down. A lot of people have heard her name, but I would guess that not as many of them are familiar with her music. People are familiar with the song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ – although a lot of people who recognize the song probably don’t know the title (check it out and see if it’s familiar to you). She also wrote the song ‘Woodstock’ made popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. There are a few things that draw me to this song. It’s extremely interesting for how it’s written lyrically. It tells a story with great imagery. Not many lyric writers put this kind of depth in to their songs. Vocally the lyrics flow on top of the music – not a standard cadence or traditional verse chorus structure. The guitar chording is unique. Mitchell experimented with lots of different guitar tunings that give a unique sound to her playing. I became more familiar with Mitchell’s work when I started playing fretless bass and became a huge Jaco Pastorius fan. Actually, it’s more that I became a huge Jaco fan and wanted to learn how to play fretless bass. You can recognize his style through out the song, the harmonics you hear being plucked are on the bass, not the guitar parts. The song combines so many styles: jazz, pop, rock. If you take the time to take the song apart and analyze the structure, it’s a masters class in song writing. It’s the kind of song that really deserves an attentive listen. But it’s also a song I’d have playing on a southwest trip driving down a empty highway through the desert.