Category: Referred Music

May 2021 Grapevine

Spring has officially arrived. Flowers are blooming, Temperatures are rising. Trees are green. The pollen from the trees is so thick it’s like walking through fog……..well, that last part isn’t great but we need to accept the bad with the good. So let’s move on to the tunes. Listening to new music is always good. This month we’re going to start out by comparing two selections of music. What we see is that good music can be found in songs that have either a small amount of instrumentation or a large amount. Another comparison between the songs is the length. Some people like their music in short, easy to digest nuggets. Other people like the journey and changes that come with an extended piece of music. I’m firmly in both camps. As usual, I feel if you put limits on what you’re going to listen to, you end up missing some amazing songs.

Let’s start out with the ‘macro’…

First Up: Squid – ‘Narrator’

Stylistically Squid would fall in to what most people term ‘post-punk’ music. You can see their basic instrumentation in the video. Two guitars, bass, keyboard, drums, vocals. As you progress through the song you will also hear a number of samples as well as a second vocal (featured player Martha Skye Murphy). The first part of the song is pretty classic post-punk. Short bursts of notes from the the melodic instruments. Very angular guitar lines instead of held chords. The bass and the keyboards follow suit. As the lines clash you pick up some dissonance between the instruments. The vocals work the same way. Not a whole lot of melody to the vocal lines. A lot of the impact of the vocals is rhythmic. The drums keep the steady beat that the other pieces work around. Fans of eighties bands like Gang Of Four will find this familiar. By now you may have looked at the length of the song. 8:35????? Unfortunately a lot of people will see that length and bail. But the point of the song is the journey. As you get to the halfway mark the song goes through a breakdown in to less instrumentation. The remainder of the song builds to a climax using repetition, noise and ambiance. This song is definitely a journey. Stick with it, you’ll pick up different things in the background every time you listen. It feels like you’ve finished reading a story when it’s done. A great video mirrors the music.

Next Up: Old Leatherstocking – ‘Death And The Lady’

If we’re looking for the opposite of the style we heard in the first song, you’ll find it in Old Leatherstocking. A simple, traditionally Appalachian banjo and vocal song. The focus in a song like ‘Death And The Lady’ is it’s presentation and simplicity. This is how a lot of music really began. You’ll often hear a song like this presented as just vocals, without any instrumental backing at all. The banjo mirrors the vocal line, driving home the dark tale being told. This song is played using a two fingered banjo technique, not the three finger ‘Scruggs’ style banjo most people are used to hearing in Bluegrass music. Again, the banjo here is used to double up the vocal melody as compared to being a featured melody and rhythm line in it’s own right. The power behind such a simple presentation is amazing. It brings the chills and conjures up a lonely walk through a graveyard at night (put on headphones and try that sometime – I find it inspiring). The video perfectly fits the song. A single static shot of the performance. Death singing a tune. The polar opposite of our first selection. And both songs take you on their own amazing journey.

Finally: Remember Sports – ‘Pinky Ring’

This song would fit comfortably in between the poles of the first two selections. The song could be filed under indie/pop/punk if you were looking for a genre to list. Classic instrument line up of guitars, bass and drums. The mix is well done with a clear, distinct place for all the instruments and the vocals. During the choruses one guitar follows the vocal line melodically. There are a lot of bands creating this style of music. What makes one song like this different from the tons of others I hear? For me it’s a couple of things. First, it’s the recording quality and mix. I really like the way this song is put together. Second, does it bring on some kind of emotional feel? ‘Pinky Ring’ has that sad, wistful feeling of something that was lost in the past. Finally, what really caught me was the video. When I’m listening to new music I’m almost always going through videos. I saw an online review of the band and started searching. I came across this video and went ‘wait a minute…..’ ChurchHouse is located in the Allentown, Pa area. I grew up around here and spent weekends and vacations going hiking and picnicking in the Pocono mountains. Much of the video is shot in Boulder Field in Hickory Run State Park. We used to go there and see how fast we could run across it without killing ourselves. We still go there occasionally. Always cool to have a video trigger childhood memories.

Retro: Urge Overkill – ‘Sister Havana’

Urge Overkill delivers a big dose of power pop with their 1993 song ‘Sister Havana’ from the album ‘Saturation’. This was always a fun song to play live, with it’s wonderfully crunchy guitar barre chords and straight forward, head banging beat. It’s the kind of song that could be killed with a bad mix, but ‘Sister Havana’ has the placement of drums, guitar, bass and vocals to tie everything together. The most important part of any song is the writing. But the difference between success and failure is often found in the studio and final mix. This song is a good example of how making the right studio choices can determine the entire direction of a song or career.

April 2021 Grapevine

Spring has finally arrived. It feels so good to get outside, feel some warm sunshine and watch the flowers and plants grow. It certainly helps to clear the mind and add some positivity to day to day life. Changes in music as a business continue. The advent of online music over the years has changed how bands generate revenue. With much music being available for free online, musicians found their best revenue streams were in playing live and selling merchandise. The pandemic has imparted even more changes on the music business. The live music stream of revenue took a big hit. Bands had more difficulty getting together to practice or record. Were there any positive results to be found in music creation? I think there has been some increased creativity in some of the bands that are not huge commercial acts. More time to be ‘inside your own head’ and come up with new ideas. More willingness to take a chance on working on different styles of music. Taking opportunities to work with different artists on projects because you can create tracks and send them through the internet. Hopefully we can return to some sort of normal and the good parts of music creation that halted will return. But I hope we keep the lessons learned about the new methods of creation to make an even better music scene.

First Up: Cory Hanson – ‘Pale Horse Rider’

One of the main things that pull me in to songs is the atmosphere and feel they put across as you’re listening to them. Before you even break them down to the specific parts that touch you, the overall feel gives you a sense of place. The main tracks of this album were recorded in a home studio in Joshua Tree. Having had the opportunity to visit Joshua Tree I can hear this as a sound track to listen to as you wander through that amazing park. The desert really does have a feel all it’s own and this song captures that aura. The instrumentation and sound trend towards country/americana. You can find the guitars, strings, pedal steel and smooth languid drums. For this song the instruments are blended together so no individual piece stands out. That allows them to act as a solid backdrop to place the vocals on. The vocals are up front, set on top of the instruments. The smooth vocal delivery creates a feeling of sadness. I like the video, much of it shot in the desert. It’s interesting that Hanson’s performance in the video appears happy and funny when the music feels a bit more sad and somber. It’s a interesting contrast.

Next Up: Xixa – ‘Eve Of Agnes’

The draw in for me on this tune was the massive, wonderful percussion. We can start with just the actual ‘percussion’ instruments. You have kit drums and a wide variety of other percussion instruments driving the beat of the song. The Tuareg quintet Imraham (we’ve covered some Tuareg music in a previous Grapevine) brings percussion rhythms from North Africa. The melodic instruments continue this rhythm contribution. The guitars snake through the music, using interesting single note lines that definitely give the song a middle eastern feel and flavor. I’d recommend this song for the guitar lines alone. Keyboard synths lay down a base for all of these rhythmic flourishes to sit on top of. The vocals added have very contrasting feels, almost as if they belong to two separate songs. There’s a smooth vocal with a lot of reverb that is a little lower in the mix. When this vocal is on the music smooths out a bit. That vocal is contrasted with the Tuareg vocal that is more percussive and a bit louder and less drenched in reverb. It forms a great back and forth dialogue within the vocal part of the song. They throw in a nice change of pace at about the 2:55 point of the song. Not really a change in tempo, but they remove some of the ‘driving’ elements of the song – you can pick up the bass much more clearly. Nice way to bring the song to an end.

Finally: Julia Stone – ‘Fire In Me’

We’ll finish up with a song whose musical feel serves to highlight the vocals. The underpinnings of ‘Fire In Me’ fall in to the slow burn of electronic keyboards and percussion. The instrumental parts of the song are kept relatively simple. You can hear a bass riff and keyboard figure that repeat throughout the song. The repetition is intentional. It creates a hypnotic mood. A dark room with incense and candles burning. Music like this often feels cinematic. You could hear this song on the soundtrack of movie. It’s sounds like a scene where the character is walking in slow motion through a dark and spooky house. The vocal treatment pushes this even further – the doubling of the voice and the clarity and crisp EQ used in the recording put the vocal squarely on top of the instruments. The ‘response’ second vocal continues this mood. The keyboard is also used as a vocal like response when it comes in between the voices. Mood is the master here.

Retro: Humble Pie – ’30 Days In The Hole’

This song is from Humble Pie’s 1972 album ‘Smokin’. This is the type of song from that era that I love because of the loose feeling of the recording (another would be Rod Stewart’s ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’). It starts right in the beginning with the intro that sounds like they started taping while the band was still organizing how to start the song vocally. Great crunchy guitar comes in with the drums. The bass comes in with a nice little run in the middle of the first verse. The vocal and harmonica in the middle of the song keeps this live feeling going. I’ve talked about this in other ‘retro’ picks – the high end, crunchy guitar sound from that era still rules for me.

If You’re Feeling Adventurous……….

Divide And Dissolve are a band that work long, strange, sludgey instrumental noise experiments. It’s a noisy tune that works like background sound for the end of the world. Not for everyone, but if you’re interested in trying out music that is totally different, sometimes brutal, give it a listen.

February 2021 Grapevine

February is the short month of the year. In as much as the weather is not always pleasant (I’m not big on snow, sleet and ice) I’m OK with it being a bit shorter. What to do when you can’t get outside and enjoy nature? Listen to more music. This month I’ve listened to more new material than usual. There is so much to listen to out there. I’ve heard a lot of variety and in the future may delve in to some genres that I don’t review as often. For this month we’ve got some guitar driven ‘indie’ style music. The ‘indie’ musical definition is really wide. I’ll still use that definition although I’m sure you could break songs down to their micro definitions (i.e. ‘swirly retro pop guitar driven emotion oriented vocal croon’). Does it really just fall under the huge heading of ‘rock music’? Who knows? Who cares? I have found that if the review tries to break a song down in to a several word definition in the heading and you just go by that to decide if you want to listen, you might miss a lot of good things. So, onward we go!

First Up: Hospital Bracelet – ‘Feral Rat Anthem’

The song starts out with a clean guitar running chord arpeggios. One interesting decision in recording the song is the mix of the clean guitar with the bass guitar. You almost don’t hear the bass guitar as a separate instrument. It gives the guitar a huge sounding bottom end, making it sound ‘bigger’ than just a single guitar. During these parts of the song the drums maintain a relatively simple beat, putting the emphasis on the vocals and allowing the lyrics to remain very clear and up front. The mix during these quieter parts keeps all the instruments at about the same level. When the song hits the change in dynamics, the power kicks in. The guitar adds distortion and increases it’s presence in the mix. The vocals move to a near scream. The quiet/loud dynamics in a song is used frequently by many artists. Why? It works. The feel of the music mirrors the lyrics in the song. If you want an idea of the mood of the lyrics, take a look at the picture on the album cover. See the drawing of the four hands throwing the bird? That is a good symbol for the lyrics of this song: “I really hope you learn to never forgive yourself because evеryone knows you’re a lying cheat and I hopе you’re always feeling incomplete”. Ouch. Anyone you know?

Next Up: Drive By Truckers – ‘Tough To Let Go’

There’s a number of ways to make a song memorable. It could be having an amazing instrumental or vocal hook that catches everyone’s ears. You could have amazing instrumental players, a guitarist, pianist or drummer whose part makes you stand up and take notice. Or it could be lyrics that simply burn in to you. The best combination can be great lyrics that create an emotional feeling and instrumental parts that play to those lyrics. I think ‘Tough To Let Go’ falls in to the last category. I like the instrumental sound they come up with from the very beginning. A very simple drum pattern, with a great snare sound, grounds the song in a simple beat. Organ, guitar and bass join in to fill out the instruments. Everyone backs down on the instrumental dynamics when the vocals come in. This puts the lyrics directly in the spotlight. The instruments pick up to deliver more power to the lyrics during the chorus. Between the vocal sections is a great, simple lead guitar part. Some lead guitar parts put the emphasis on the instrument. This guitar part echoes the feeling of the vocals, sad and a bit lost. What sticks with me is the lyrics. How do you let go of expectations you had and move on to new things? The lyrics probable hit you harder when you have a few years under your belt and, as the lyrics say, “you’re wondering where did all the time go?”. Where indeed?

Finally: Still Corners – ‘It’s Voodoo’

It’s interesting how different styles of music will affect you depending on your mood. As I go back over the songs picked for this Grapevine I can certainly see a pattern of mood and style. It’s tough enough being relatively house bound during an epidemic. Top that off with a week or two of no sun and way too much snow where it seems that the only time you go out is to shovel in a blizzard. These songs are the current soundtrack in my head. I think we all tend to gravitate to music that fits our internal mood. ‘It’s Voodoo’ continues this narrative. Great job on the guitar sounds and playing in this song. The band manages to have both dreamy background sounds and crisp leads. Listen to the guitar in the beginning of the song. The guitarist is ‘dead stringing’ the notes – leaving your picking hand touching the strings so the note does not ring. As a result you can really pick up the effects being used – some reverb and a great echo. The guitar sets the tone for the entire song. We don’t even have the first vocal until the song is already about a minute in. The vocal delivery matches the feel of the guitar – laid back and dream like. The band makes good use of effects on the vocal, adding a doubled vocal when they want to put emphasis on the lyric. At the three minute mark we drop down to just the guitars – one keeping a beat in the background while the other throws in some tasty lead lines. ‘It’s Voodoo’ is a song carried by the guitar feel – and that was the right mix for this tune.

Retro: Neil Young – ‘After The Gold Rush’

If you want to hear prime examples of mixing emotion with simple arrangements you can always go to Neil Young’s catalogue. His songs are also examples of how amazing songs will hold up decades after they were written and recorded. When I get a chance to hike though the high mountains, stand on the summit and look over the overwhelming beauty of nature, this is one of the songs playing in the soundtrack in my head.

Keep dreaming………

January 2021 Grapevine

So it’s a new year? Serious question. I’m not really sure. Anyway, we’ll get right in to the music. I don’t know if I’ve ever explained how I pick songs for the Grapevine. Like most people searching for new music, I go through reviews and articles in print magazines and online magazines/fanzines. I try to avoid the writer’s opinion on whether the band is ‘good’ and look for a description of the band’s music. If it sounds interesting, I’ll write down the band and album’s name. After I have a few on the list I’ll start listening to them, usually looking for YouTube clips on the tablet using headphones. I don’t really do ‘reviews’. If I don’t like the song, I’m not going to write about it. I tend to pick songs that have been viewed less to highlight lesser known bands. I also want to voice a concrete reason why I like a particular song. I guess all that brings us to the specific point about this month’s songs. I tend to be real interested in how a song is mixed – especially where instruments are placed in the stereo field. A lot of this month’s song’s appeal to me was in the stereo mix. Which is why I originally listen to the songs using headphones. Sooooo…… if you don’t get to listen to these songs with headphones or a pair of stereo speakers the mix tricks won’t be as obvious. That being said, let’s take a listen………

First Up: Mamalarky – ‘Drug Store Model’

The first thing to hit me as soon as the song started was………..good guess – the stereo mix. It starts with a guitar panned to the right. The vocals, bass and drums come in and get placed in the center of the mix. The drums are spaced wider across the field to give it the feel of standing in front of a ‘live’ kit. The keyboard comes in on the left side of the mix. All the instruments are pretty crisp, so you pick each out of the mix. The instruments have a bunch of little riffs they do between chords. Sometimes they play the same riff, sometimes it’s different. That and a good, strong snare beat keeps the song bopping along, toe tapping. The vocal floats on top. This is the type of song where the cadence of the vocals is as important as the notes you sing. At the 2:00 minute mark the tempo starts to slow down until it comes to a complete stop. The song comes back for another 30 seconds of instrumental to the end. It’s an neat little way to end the song rather than another straight verse/chorus. It’s the little things that often make a song stick with you.

Next Up: Kacy & Clayton and Marlon Williams – ‘Plastic Bouquet’

This song caught me for a few reasons, starting with the recording. The recording was done perfectly for the song. Very simple: two guitars, vocals and a simple beat for the percussion. Again, speaking of sound placement in the mix, some good choices. The guitars are panned a bit to the left and the right with the more ‘active’ guitar being on the left. This separation allows you to hear each guitar part. It also allows you to mix the vocals down the middle so they are the featured instrument in the mix. The recording strives to highlight the lyrics, and I would definitely consider this a lyric centered song. After I heard the song I was driving and couldn’t help but notice a number of places that had ‘shrines’ on the side of the road where people had lost their lives in car accidents. Which to me means that the song/recording had succeeded in it’s purpose. It caused me to pay attention to something I would normally drive by without noticing. There’s also some really tasty acoustic guitar playing. Enough so that’s it’s noticeable, but not so much that’s it’s distracting. The feel is enhanced by the song being played in ‘waltz’ (3/4) time. ‘Country/Folk’ style song writing at it’s best.

Finally: Lee Paradise – ‘Boogie’

So let’s finish up with something completely different. This is music to dance to. At least I would love to hear this if I was out on the dance floor. To make this song work you have to start by getting the basic electronic dance beat right. A good solid couple of recording tracks that include electronic drums where the kick drum sound is king and you work the sound of a snare and hi hat as well as some repetitive keyboard sounds around it. The other sounds you put in are the icing on the cake. These other sounds are the ones that tend to float around in different areas of the stereo field. But they’re important to make the song stand out from other ‘dance tracks’ since a lot will have the same tempo and even the same electronic drum beat. In ‘Boogie’ this would be vocals that come in and out and especially the electronic bass sound that adds bottom end. I also like that the song is kept to a reasonable length – a little over three minutes. The length keeps the song from being too drawn out if you’re listening to it when you’re just lounging at home listening to a bunch of different styles of music (which tends to be what I do). There might be a ‘club’ version that would be at least twice as long. Yes, yes another black lights and incense song.

Retro: Steppenwolf – ‘Monster/Suicide/America’

I’ve always been a big fan of Steppenwolf. I’ll probably do another Retro Steppenwolf song in the future just to discuss the musical parts of a favorite song (like one of the best crunchy, fuzzy, ‘sloppy’ guitar tones of all time). I was listening to a Steppenwolf album the other day and this song came on. I was sitting in the recliner with headphones on. I listened to the lyrics. Hmmmm. Looked at the release date. 1969. That’s weird. Listened to it again. Weeeeellllluuuummmmmm. OK. So 52 years have passed. Lyrical time machine to 2020?

December 2020 Grapevine

Well, we’re in the last month of the year of horror that wouldn’t end. Except it looks like the beginning of 2021 won’t be much different. I’m hoping for personal brain reversal salvation when the new year rolls around. A bit of an attitude adjustment. A shining light of positivity to appear. Some beauty in the world. Which for me means diving deeper in to music and art. I guess ‘positive’ is only there if you create it yourself. So let’s finish off the year by reviewing some more music. Maybe you’ll hear something that will be a positive influence for you. Or a least take the ‘real’ world away for a few minutes. Let’s see what we have:

First Up: Bambara – ‘Death Croons’

I’ve stated before that songs show up in our Grapevine posts for a variety of reasons. When I hear a new tune that I like, I go back after hearing it for the first time and try to take apart the pieces that each instrument plays. ‘Death Croons’ has a great driving drum beat with a bass part that enhances that drive. Moody, reverb laden guitars add atmosphere, with one guitar pushing it further with some retro sounding slide. The vocals, somewhere between spoken and sung, make the song sound even darker. One reason I like to occasionally put in performances of the song that are recorded live to video is that you get to see what the musicians are playing and that can give you a better feel for how the songs are constructed. For this song I’m including a live video and the studio version of the song. See if you can pick out the differences in the recordings. One thing missing from the live version is the backing vocals. I think their floating, almost call and response feel add a great deal to the song. The drums are a bit more smoothed out in volume and attack. The echo and reverb on the guitar floats from channel to channel in the studio mix. The versions are similar, but the slight variations are cool. One reason to see a band live is to enjoy these differences.

Next Up: Best Coast – ‘Wreckage’

Let’s start with the musical composition on ‘Wreckage’. Great straight ahead driving rock song. The drums and bass lay the foundation for the song. The bass sits on eighth notes of the chord root, driving the song relentlessly forward. The guitars provide the atmosphere, pulling back in the verses and pushing the chorus forward. In this song the music is meant to highlight the vocals and lyrics. Vocals are crisp and clean on top so the lyrics can be heard and understood. The lyrics are the main part that resonates with me in ‘Wreckage’. I’ve had these kind of songs in Grapevine before – singing loud with the window rolled down while driving (not as much windows down in the winter – hard to sing with your teeth chattering). I’m including the lyrics here because there are a lot of great lines. I really relate to ‘Guess I’m really still the best at getting in my own way’.

So sorry for everything
You know I really wanted it to work out
I put the blame on everybody
Was incapable of not being stressed out

I, I wanted to move on
But I, I kept writing the same songs

Now that everything’s burned down
I can put it all to bed
If only I could make sense of it
When it’s swirling in my head
I’m so sick of being proud
And I’ve got nothing left to say
Guess I’m really still the best at
Getting in my own way

So if I’m good now
Then why do I feel
Like a failure
Almost every day?
And if I’m wise now
Then why do I feel
Like I’m lying
Straight to your face?

I, I wanted to move on
But I, I keep doing this thing wrong

Now that everything’s burned down
I can put it all to bed
If only I could make sense of it
When it’s swirling in my head
I’m so sick of being proud
And I’ve got nothing left to say
Guess I’m really still the best at
Getting in my own way

I’ll keep pushing forward
So I don’t slip way behind

Now that everything’s burned down
I can put it all to bed
If only I could make sense of it
When it’s swirling in my head
I’m so sick of being proud
And I’ve got nothing left to say
Guess I’m really still the best at
Getting in my own way

No one’s saying that I’ve got to be perfect
So why do I keep pushing myself?
No one’s saying that I’ve got to be perfect
So why do I keep pushing myself?

Finally: Aoife Nessa Frances – ‘Geranium’

Right off the bat what struck me with this song is the use of a drum machine over live drums. If you had played the song for me before completion, I would have expected live drums to push it forward. For ‘Geranium’ drum machine proves to be a great choice. Their simplicity lays down a wonderful foundation to build the rest of the song. The arpeggio guitar chords with the simple drums gives a dreamy, magical feel you probably wouldn’t get with live drums. There are reverse tape effects in the song that are another great trick to maintain the atmosphere. All the instrumentation is used to highlight the vocals in the song. There are many different ways to highlight vocals musically and I think ‘Geranium’ and the previous song ‘Wreckage’ show that you can do it using two very different techniques. ‘Geranium’ is a more ‘incense and candles’ than ‘sing along’. Shows how important recording/production can be if used correctly.

Retro: The Beatles – ‘She Said She Said’

I sometimes like to use the ‘Retro’ song to look at the musical past and how much of it still relates to music today. You can always find lots of influence looking through The Beatles catalogue. ‘She Said She Said’ has the arpeggiated guitars in the verses, turning to jangly chords in the chorus. The recording has a trippy, laid back feeling to it. And the music serves to highlight the vocals. This song came out on the 1966 Revolver album. For a song written and recorded over fifty years ago, it does not seem at all out of place with the other songs in this post. Remarkable considering the differences in recording tech between then and now. If a song is great it will always continue to influence.

November 2020 Grapevine

Well, we made it through November. Sort of. Some things are better, some things are worse. Didn’t expect 2020 to cut us a break, did you? One more month and the 2020 year from hell is over. Light some candles for 2021. One can only hope that that next year will bring us some relief. On to the Grapevine. There’s an intentional theme this month. We’ll be taking a look at some stripped down music. These songs could fall in to several categories: punk blues, hillbilly stomp, garage rock, call it what you will. The music has different ‘styles’ to it, but the feeling the songs give to me is the same: simple, raw, emotional – what I’d like to find in a dive bar, backyard gathering or crowded garage. Usually I’ll keep to newer releases, but these songs span more years. Enjoy your walk through the spooky woods.

First Up: Hillstomp – ‘Graverobber’s Blues’ ‘Don’t Come Down’

A great example of what you can do with simple instrumentation. Guitar (or banjo) drums, vocals. They’re part of the revival of simple blues that has been around forever but has regained prominence in the last decade (you know how much we love Rev Peyton). These songs always hit me deeper than huge production songs. They just feel more personal. Sitting in dim light with your friends; pass the bottle or the burnables. The party in ‘Don’t Come Down’ is where I’d like to be. I also like the sound of more homemade drums sets: drums, buckets, metal objects, lots of duct tape. Here’s two songs, one more guitar, the other more banjo.

Next Up: The Scientists – ‘Swampland’

The Scientists applied a more ‘garage’ sound to the music. Still a lo-fi blues feel to it, but more of a rock sound than country or bluegrass based. This song came out during the 1980s post punk era. In today’s world you can find a lot of ‘smaller audience’ and less known bands on the internet. Back then you had to search them out. It took a bit more work to come across the hidden gems. Fanzines, small clubs and word of mouth were the main methods of transmission. The components are all here – high end trebly guitars, basic drum and bass patterns, lots of reverb and vocals mixed deeper in to the music. This song would be perfectly placed being played in a garage with a small crowd jammed in and banging around.

Finally: Left Lane Cruiser – ‘Claw Machine Wizard’

Left Lane Cruiser is another two person band. Another band that produces a whole lot of sound just using guitar and drums. On this song, the music is tilted more toward the ‘rock’ part of ‘rock/blues’. But it continues the raw, lo-fi feel we’ve been exploring. Many of these two person band’s guitar feel is made by playing riffs instead of straight ahead chords with lead guitar thrown in at different parts. Having guitar riffs bounce off of and compete with the vocals makes the music/band sound larger than just two people. The guitar player carries the bottom end with single notes on the low strings while playing the riffs higher up. That is typical of a lot of older delta blues players, many very full sounding arrangements made by themselves on acoustic guitar.

Retro – Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs – ‘Ghost On The Highway’

Thought I’d include one of our own takes on this genre. One of my favorite bands, The Gun Club, first pulled me in to the punk blues style. I may have played their 1981 album, Fire Of Love, more than any other album I have. Perfect balance of garage, blues and punk. One of the first punk bands that took up this style and to me, still the best. This is our version of Ghost On The Highway’ from Fire Of Love.

Making The Case For Bass

When you listen to music, each instrument involved (including voice) has a part in putting across the vision of the artist. In a great song all the parts contribute to this vision. It’s not really possible to say that any particular instrument is the most important. This is especially true because different styles of music use a diverse palette of available instruments to create a song. We recently did a video discussing the different ways to record electric bass. For this post, let’s talk about the importance of bass guitar in songs.

When I first started playing in rock bands, bass guitar did not get a lot of respect. When you’re young and putting a band together the players who were usually recognized by fans of the band were the vocalist and lead guitar player. If you started a band and two people were guitar players, the person who was less technical was often ‘assigned’ bass guitar duties. Or if there was a person you wanted in the band who didn’t play an instrument, you’d teach them the bass. This was because the bass player could just stay on the key note of the chord and play eighth notes. This would be enough to add a bottom to the song and improve the dynamics.

The more I listened to funk, jazz and dance music, the more intrigued I became with how the bass could control the song. The role of bass was a bridge between the rhythm and the melody. And the bass has a great effect on the song’s dynamics. Just doing a well placed ‘drop out’ on bass can kick a song to a new level. As the style of ‘post-punk’ grew, I found more and more bands that built ‘rock’ style guitars and vocals on top of funk style bass and drums. I spent a lot of time practicing and refashioned myself as a ‘bass player’. I must say it’s a great deal of fun to stand out of the light on stage and still feel in control of where the song is going.

Another interesting prospect is writing a song from the bass line up. Usually you would start with guitar parts (or keyboards, banjo, mandolin etc) or a vocal melody. We have written songs that started with bass lines. It allows all the other instruments to freely ‘wander’ where they will as the bass is holding down the chord changes. I would guess that some of the songs selected below may have been written this way.

Practicing bass became one of the most enjoyable things I do musically. Playing along with a great bass line, throwing in different changes, rhythms and scales is totally immersive for me. Everything else disappears. Following are some of my favorite ‘bass-centric’ songs (and bands) to practice with. Most of the bands here fall in to a ‘funk-rock’ category rather than straight funk style – out and out ‘funk’ bands would be another full post. I’ve picked specific songs, but in practice I’ll usually play through the entire album. Let’s groove.

The Bamboos – ‘Step It Up’

Funky from start to finish. After you get down the main riff, the sky’s the limit and you can go off on your own tangents. This album is a staple of my practice sessions.

Medium Medium – ‘Hungry, So Angry’

Although I had listened to funk growing up (Sly and The Family Stone, James Brown, Funkadelic, The Meters, etc) this was the beginning of mixing my punk roots with a funk bottom. At early ‘punk’ shows you could still see bands in smaller venues and stand right in front of the stage. I learned a lot just watching what and how the bassist was playing. Medium Medium was one of the bands that pulled the ‘slap and pop’ style in to punk.

Gang Of Four – ‘To Hell With Poverty’

More post-punk funk fun. The bass and drums holding down the rhythm allows the guitar to pursue any noise it wants.

My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult – ‘Sex On Wheelz’

The bass sits way down on the bottom end for this song. Sitting on this riff for five minutes will make your fingers laugh and cry at the same time.

Talking Heads – ‘Crosseyed And Painless’

Talking Heads put out a wide variety of music over their careers. Their mid career run of albums of funk rock were amazing. I learned a lot of bass technique watching Tina Weymouth in the ‘Stop Making Sense’ concert movie (a must watch if you haven’t seen it).

The Clash – ‘The Magnificent Seven’

The Clash were another band all about musical variety. Here they combine funk rock music with rap style vocals.

Pylon – ‘Volume’

Pylon combined a solid drums/bass bottom end with a minimalist top end. If you were the rhythm section in a band like this, you really had to stay on point or the whole song could fall apart. Sounds simple, but playing live you had to keep your timing really tight.

Shriekback – ‘Malaria’

The album this came from, ‘Oil And Gold’, is another full play through practice album for me. We did a Messin’ With The Music cover of ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’ from the album. Dave Allen from Gang Of Four was the bass player in this band too.

Bush Tetras – ‘Too Many Creeps’

Another solid rhythm with slashing noise on top. We first saw this band in Manhattan in 1980. If you were in New York around that time ‘Too Many Creeps’ would be your theme song. Times Square in 1980, woooooo…….

One More Thing……..

After sending out the October Grapevine last week, I was listening to other music showing up in my internet feed. I came across this video of Tommy Emmanuel. I had heard of him before – he’s pretty well known as a virtuoso guitar player. He’s mostly known as an acoustic guitar finger picker. This video is of him playing Classical Gas, a song that was big when I was younger. My guitar teacher had me learn the basics of it. I watched this video, probably with my mouth open in awe the whole time. Our series Messin’ With The Music was based on trying to redo songs acoustically and pretty much ‘live’ by recording the tracks straight through, showing the sounds you can create using just that format. Tommy Emmanuel takes the acoustic guitar and pushes it to the limit. The speed, accuracy and timing is other worldly. This video shows how much sound and style you can produce with one acoustic instrument. There’s even a guitar bend he does that sounds like a whammy bar on an electric guitar. And the timing in and out of it is perfect. Enjoy.

October 2020 Grapevine

October arrives. We’re in the last quarter of the endless bizzaro year 2020. Fall is coming in to full bloom. By now Halloween fun is usually ramping up, but this year has been Halloween all year. Trick or trick. Anyway, let’s take a listen to some more new music to pass the time. Stylistically, I don’t know that there is a real specific theme here. Although, despite differences in style, there sounds like a bit of darkness lurking in each of theses tunes. I think I usually feel some internal darkness around this time of year. Days are shorter, weather in our area tends to become a bit more dismal and overcast. But no matter the weather or date, 2020 has been a year that darkness rules. Let’s let the music save us!

First Up: Iress – ‘Shallow’

Let’s begin with some dark drone. The song builds slowly. It starts out with feedback and reverb heavy guitar to create atmosphere. This original background atmosphere continues through out the song, allowing different elements to be built on top. First to come in is a simple guitar arpeggio. The next addition is a pounding drum. Sort of like someone whacking you in the head with a mallet (sometimes a good shot to the head is useful). Vocals finally enter the fray after the first minute. One of the things I like best in this song is the use and treatment of the vocals. There are multiple vocal tracks, effects and harmonies blended together so the vocals do double duty as a background instrument. The song continues to build with guitar chord distortion, crashes added to the drum sound and wordless vocals to blend in with the background sounds in what would probably be considered the chorus. This theme repeats through the song. They open up the guitar and drum parts for the song outro. Put on your headphones, turn off the lights, fire up a candle and incense and breathe in the mood.

Next Up: Death Valley Girls – ‘Under The Spell Of Joy’

We start out with a great vocal chorus. The mix of voices, including a children’s choir, was a great choice. The vocals establish the melody line that is reflected by the guitar when it comes in. When the drums come in they also reflect the cadence that has been established by the vocals and guitar. The final piece to come in is saxophone. The sax work here takes me back to the early days of post punk. Two of my favorite bands from that era, The Psychedelic Furs and Medium Medium made great use of this style of sax playing in their songs. It takes the place of where you would usually put a lead guitar. The sonic textures you can add using sax puts you somewhere between a guitar sound and a vocal. The drums and guitar continue to hold down the original riff while the top alters between vocals and sax. A moment of scratchy silence hits before the slamming freak out at the end. An interesting thing to listen to is the difference between this ending buzz and the rest of the song. You can make the song sound as if it speeds up without changing the beats per minute by doubling the drum and/or guitar notes from, say, quarter notes to eighth notes. Always nice to end with a good old feedback burst.

Finally: Osees – ‘Dreary Nonsense’

I thought we’d end with an all out assault on your ears. Short, fast and brutal would be a good description of this Osees song. And I mean that in the most complimentary way. I guess you could classify this as ‘punk’ although that term has been so overused in our current musical era as to be almost meaningless. Some interesting things to listen to here. First, let’s talk about the recording and mix of the drums. Using drum tuning and EQ, there isn’t much difference between the sound of the kick drum and the snare. That’s intentional (just guessing – I wasn’t actually there). Using this as the drum mix propels the beat along at a constant frenetic pace. The EQ on the guitar keeps this top end sonic assault. When the guitar is playing the siren like two note riff I can feel it in the fillings in my teeth (better than a sonic toothbrush). The vocals fall somewhere between speaking and singing. The cadence of the vocal adds to the song’s beat propulsion. Even the bass guitar has a lot of top end to it. In a minute and a half, it’s over. Did anyone get the licence number of that car that ran me over?

Retro: Frank Zappa – ‘Montana’

You could right an entire book trying to describe the music of Frank Zappa. There are certainly a few books out there that try. He used a wide variety of instruments to create an orchestral, sometimes jazz version of rock music along with more ‘standard’ rock style songs. I was first introduced to Zappa’s music by my guitar teacher when I was in 5th or 6th grade. Talk about a WTF moment. But once you get past the overall strangeness, you can listen to how deliberately the instruments are placed and arranged in the composition. Some works read more like a symphony than a rock song. Besides your usual rock instruments you’ll hear horns, woodwinds, strings, xylophone and a wide variety of percussion instruments. I also got to see Zappa live in a small college venue when I was in high school. Another WTF moment – strange little skits happened between songs and Zappa spent most of his playing time sitting in a chair. I chose ‘Montana’ because it is probably one of Zappa’s more ‘rock’ songs and one some people might have actually heard. I also chose it because it has one of Zappa’s amazing, blazing guitar solos in it. If you didn’t know that he was probably one of rock’s best guitar players, feast your ears on this.

September 2020 Grapevine

We are officially in Fall of 2020 and things are still so ______ __ (fill in the blanks). My wife and I took ten days to hike in the White Mountains in New Hampshire to clear our heads. There’s hundreds of miles of trails so you can pick trails where you can pretty much avoid all people. Which we did. Great weather and a great vacation. Nothing like crawling up a mountain with a beautiful summit view to give you some positive perspective. Unfortunately, you have to come back. So let’s listen to some music that might help take our minds off being back in the unreal world.

First Up: Brendan Benson – ‘Richest Man’

If you don’t know Benson as a solo artist you might recognize him for his work with The Raconteurs. This song is from his newest album ‘Dear Life’. Some times a song can just make you feel better. This song did that for me. Musically it’s a great little guitar driven pop/rock tune. All the instruments are clear and well placed in the mix. In a song like this it’s good to keep everything crisp. A few well placed horns fit the mood. What you really want to do is highlight the vocals and lyrics. They’re the bread and butter for this type of song. There’s some lead guitar work mixed in towards the end part of the song, but it’s placed where it should be – supporting the vocal, not overpowering it. Sending this out to my wonderful wife who keeps me sane during the insanity. It was also great to get home to see our two four legged furry kids, who are always ecstatic when we return. Can’t ask for much more.

Next Up: Skylar Gudasz – ‘Femme Fatale’

Creating mood is what music is about. Our first song was upbeat and happy. This tune takes us in the opposite direction. Again, the music sets the mood to highlight the vocals and lyrics. Slower tempo, simple drums that rise and falls in the mix to keep time. Synths fill in as strings beneath the vocals. The instrumentation starts out very spare and grows as the song advances. That technique draws you in to the song’s feel and lyrics. There’s a perfectly set up guitar solo in the middle of the song. Just enough fuzz and dirt on the guitar sound to sustain the notes, it’s simple and melodic to match the mood of the rest of the song. It’s the little things like the guitar arrangement that can make or break a song. A lot of times people judge a song on the complexity of the individual instruments but in the long run it’s the arrangement that makes everything work. It all supports her vocals. Wonderful phrasing and very expressive, it pushes forward the story in the lyrics and makes you feel all the sadness or pain.

Finally: Parsonsfield – ‘Paper Floor’

Parsonsfield has been known as more of a folk/Americana band on their earlier albums. Here they throw in electronic drums and a fluctuating, buzzy synth and build the rest of the song on top of that. Really keep it simple with a clock like bass and some acoustic guitar mixed in. This is another song where the simplicity of the arrangement allows the vocals to be highlighted. It has enough beat to keep your toes tapping, but overkill on the beat would be more in line with head banging and that wouldn’t fit the mood of the song. I think the theme for this month could be ‘keep it simple stupid’. Less is more. Mood makes the song.

Retro: Cheap Trick – ‘Downed’

I’ve been a fan of Cheap Trick from their earliest days. This song is from their second album, ‘In Color’ which was released in 1977. One of the greatest ‘power pop’ albums of all time (my opinion anyway). I can’t count how many times I’ve plugged in my electric guitar and played along to this album at high volume from start to finish. Still do on occasion. I picked this song because of the lyrics. The feeling of wanting to escape the craziness has been life long for me. Maybe now more than ever. Some of the lyric lines always resonated with me, the idea of escaping the grind.

I’m gonna live on a mountain
Way down under in Australia
It’s either that or suicide
It’s such a strange strain on you
Oh, i got a mind
Over you it’s not the first time
Oh, i got a mind

Too many people want to save the world
Another problem is it a boy or girl
Some say the weekend is the only world
It’s such a strange strain on you

Some days when the 9 to 5 crawl got the best of me I used to swear that ‘the weekend is the only world’. Stay sane out there.