Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Woody Guthrie Classic, In Two Parts

Speak softly and carry a large guitar. Guthrie, Woody.

Almost 30 years ago, a crazy old coot of a politician recorded some protest songs from the 60s. Armed with static-prone hair, no musical talent, and an uncanny ability to point in the air with his finger while talking, he gathered some local state musicians who, apparently, were immune to common sense. Not realizing that mixing politics - and specifically, politicians - in music is not dissimilar to mixing (often crude) oil in water, these brave artists soldiered on with their labors and produced some of the least-known independently released covers ever to grace this country. Perhaps a remarkable un-recognition in its own right.

Fast-forward to modern day. The musicians have dispersed, along with the memories of that fateful recording session. And the crazy old coot has only gotten moreso, to the point that his errant finger-pointing and presidential campaign are attracting and engaging certain segments of the population.

Not the least of whom are, yes, musicians. (Put a guitar in front of that finger!)

Dusting off an old vinyl stashed away in some Indiana Jones-style vault, a new band of Vermonteers dropped the needle on this old memory of the past and said: we can do better.

It wasn't hard. Check out their little video here.

And while said politician / presidential candidate / Democratic frontrunner? - may look upon his recorded works, and despair, there are those who understand something more innate about it. Not about the craft, or the musicianship, but about the song selections, about the thought behind the album, even as its execution might have... perhaps waned.

The songs, all of which have their place in history. The album, which will certainly not hold such a place, held right at this link.

There are those who might believe in the past:

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
-Winston Churchill (British Prime Minister)

"The song that needs singing has already been sung before."
-Delta Spirit ("People, Turn Around")

And we fall partly into that category. We do, we need the old songs, the old lessons; and we need the new ones, too, the ones that explore those same themes in a new way. The songs that will lead and discover and, perhaps one distant day, recall a painful struggle's resolution.

Trust us when we say: Bernie's songs are not the songs you're looking for.

But perhaps those songs, those voices, those marching feet are indeed out there.

Those links again: The Bernie Sanders Revue, and the new Woodie Guthrie redux.
Also, a re-link to our short, "A House Burning": text and audio.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Our pick of 2015

We're going to come out and say it. Actually, we're going to say two things, here. One: we're not the biggest music outlet you're going to find.

But we like it that way.

And two: well... who the heck is going to go out and buy the 50 top albums of 2015? Really?

Actually, the second thing we wanted to say is we're not particularly fans of mainstream music coverage. But still, see point above. We were scratching our heads at how useful throwing 50 albums at someone might actually be. This year, we had a lean year. We're going to throw one at you.

(Yes, we kinda wished we'd kept with the once-a-week ethic, but work and writing and publishing... we've got big-boy "priorities," we suppose.)

In any case, we like to be your friend. We like to sit you down and tell you why we loved Mr. Stevens' Carrie and Lowell, why we think it's worth your money (yes, we realize you don't have $700 to spend on music in any given year), but also, why it's worth that risk that any consumer must take when picking up a book, a record, a piece of fruit, even. Is it good? That's where we fit in: we answer that question. But really, it's a dishonest question for us to answer; do you think it's good?

In any case, we're wondering why and how useful these top 50, important 25, absolutely necessary 20 lists are. If you're going to listen to 50 albums a year (ie be a really really high music consumer), you're probably pretty aware of what's out there. Where we like to aim is moreso to the music enjoyer, rather than the music compulsive: the person who dabbles a bit in Modest Mouse, still swears to Pink Floyd, and has one HECK of a time navigating lists of 50-100 albums to find one - yes, even one - that speaks to him/her. We have friends who, when talking music, shake their heads and say "There is no more good music. Music is dead." And we get it, we understand.

Music isn't dead. More accurately, music is killing the listener. It's drowning them out. There's just too much of it.

So then, we've come up with one album we're going to recommend in our lean, lean year. And we're going to suggest a couple things, too: go ask friend what they listen to. Borrow a CD (or better yet, a vinyl). You won't always like what they give you, but it's all about learning who's listening to your tastes. You might dodge that friend who loves Earl Sweatshirt because, well, rap isn't really your thing. You might pick up that Syd Arthur debut because, well, they know psychedelic. Critic question: is Syd Arthur better than Earl Sweatshirt, then? Who cares, some people speak to you, and some don't. Another type of dishonest question, really.

If we're the kind of blog that speaks to you, then Sufjan Stevens this year spoke to us. Quite loudly, in his hushed, whispered voice. Carrie and Lowell is an album about his mother and step-father - a mother who suffered deeply from mental illness - and we think you'll enjoy the naked clarity of his honesty. It's acoustic. It's bare. It's Sufjan without his backup pomp and brilliance and caravans of eclectic instrumentation. It's just him, sitting with a guitar, idly musing on someone else's life, and wondering what might be in store for him. It's something you might be doing, too, one of these days.

As a blog, we're kind of in an awkward position.We don't promote music. We don't espouse consumerism, really. But we're part of all that, anyway. In our own, weird little way, we're also telling you to buy, buy, buy.

Go out and see your bands.

Support local music.

Legally purchase what you listen to.

Are we really that much different from the "These are the 50 albums of 2015 you should listen to unless you are an uncultured savage" kinds of music outlets? Probably not. Not different by much, maybe by scale.

But we'd like to think at least our philosophy is a bit different. There's a lot out there - too much, even - and we try to cull those endless lists of releases into what we think you might like. Stuff we liked. Stuff that made a difference to us, that made us think differently, grow.

Or sometimes just boogied out to. (Which is also fine.)

The takeaway? F- endless lists of stuff to buy. But don't f- the music: behind all those endless releases of "bit---s and hoes," those droning, guitar-noodling nothings, those over-hyped debuts who, really, still don't hold a coin to Pink Floyd, we still believe that there is worthwhile music out there. Music to listen to, to enjoy. To pick you up after a bad breakup. To dance to with a pretty girl (or a shockingly handsome guy, ahem). To sit down, shut the world out, and listen - sometimes not to the lyrics or what's going on with the melody - but to hear where you're at. Is the music these days good? Yes, of course it's good, why wouldn't it be good? Does it speak to you? That - we don't know; we hope so. We hope you have those quiet conversations with it that you might have with Atticus Finch or Winnie the Pooh or any goofball Katherine Hepburn character.

That's how we like to judge good music, ultimately. No need to clear off the shelf for 50 new CDs; you won't need any extra space, actually, and never really have.

Now we've buttered you up for our pitch: buy buy buy! Buy what's meaningful to you. Buy what speaks to you. Buy into the idea that music (and books, and movies) are there to bring some degree of meaning into life, some amount of understanding, however small. But really, share share share: your favorite music with friends; your point of view, your understanding; your own music (or books, or movies) because, who knows, maybe someone will think you have something important to say, too. It might make a difference in their life.

Whew! We hope you'll stick with us through the unfolding year! Thanks much for putting up with our rambling / Ravings, if you will. See y'all next week!

(And can someone please explain why Courtney Barnett keeps hitting those end-of-year lists??)