This blog is about music on the run; music I listen to while I jog. It'll be first impresssions. No grades, just whether I like it or not. Heck, a week from now, I might change my mind. I'll also post occasional thoughts, to clear the dust bunnies from my head.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Harmony, Carols and Years Gone By

I haven't posted to this blog in more than a year.  Lots of reasons for that.  Maybe I'll get into it later, but I'm feeling like sharing right now.
So, I will.

I've been listening to Christmas Carols for the last couple of weeks. 
Singing along. 
Finding my harmony. 
Just me in the car. 
That's enough. 
But, today it wasn't.
I started to have really vivid memories of another time, another place when singing was everything to me.
I want to acknowledge those good friends from that time.
Good friends who could sing their asses off.
Many years ago, I was part of a group ... the Abstractions.  I called us the "Pimptations"  because we pimped everything the Temptations ever recorded. 
We were, however, our own instrument. 
That was evident around the Christmas season. 
We always had seasonal gigs. 
Jobs in places that smelled like cheap booze, cigarettes and pure joy. 
God, I loved it. 
There was something special about singing in front of a crowd, drunk on the season and 80-proof whatever.
They embraced us and cheered whatever we sang. 
We celebrated the holiday together and The Abstractions were part of their good memories.
In spite of that, the time we spent away from the band, just us, five voices, on some frigid streetcorner, just singing together, makes me want to cry.
Hell, it does make me cry.
Not painful tears, but comtemplative crying. 
Wishing I had embraced the moments more fully
We were five brothers from different mothers.
But, I love Wilfred, Unfreno, Francis, and Philip like I love any Lomax.
Five big voices, willing to dial it back so the harmony was just one big jar of honey.
Warm, sweet and comforting.
We would sing Christmas carols.
Just us in the cold night air and songs sung millions of times before, but not ever quite like we did.
Nothing soothes the soul like harmony done right.
And my soul was never at peace as much as it was on a frigid late December night, on a street corner in East Knoxville.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hearing Memories

My Brother, My Son, And the Beauty Of Bands

Maybe it's a coincidence.
It gives me comfort to think it's not.
My son and my brother started playing bass guitar about the same age.
Both love the instrument.
Just love it to death.
In Ray's case, until death.
It defines them in so many ways.
In return, they give it a vibrant life.
When my son, Brandon, plays, I hear my brother, Ray.

Ray is 2 ½ years younger than me, but his life ended four years ago.
Brandon, is 35 years younger, but recently his life started me thinking about the life lived by Ray.

Brandon plays in a band.
Tons of talent.
Pounds of recognition.
Ounces of success … so far.
That's enough to fuel a young musician.
The possibilities keep a young man in the game.
Love of the music keeps an old man playing.

Ray and another of my brothers, Ricky, played in a band too.
East Wind. A great name. A great band.
When they were Brandon's age, the enthusiasm of possibilities swept them up too.
A whiff of playing on stage is a powerful narcotic.
One fix lasts years at a time.
East Wind aged.
Got children, jobs and wives.
The jobs and wives changed.
The children grew up.

The band played on.

Over time, the energy of what could be, was replaced by the bliss of being with bandmates.
Being a member of East Wind means something.
It has history.
It has texture.
It has depth.
Creating wonderful sounds together.
Doesn't matter if the audience is five or five hundred.
The joy of playing … playing together … is the same.

There was no one more joyful with playing than Ray.

That brings me back to Brandon.

The band Brandon plays in, Great Young Hunters, had a cd release party.
In a place where bigger bands play.
Their name on the marquee.
An article about them in a newspaper.
And it's the most wonderful time for them.

Being a member of Great Young Hunters means something.
It will create a history.
It will find texture.
It will develop depth.
Creating wonderful sounds together.
Doesn't matter if the audience is five or five hundred.
The joy of playing … playing together … is the same.

And right now There is no one more joyful with playing than Brandon.

Ray would be proud.

Reading A Mind

Music On The Run

Robbie Robertson - How To Become Clairvoyant

Robbie Robertson's newest offering sounds like it was done by a man with experience and chops in the business.  That's because Robertson is a man with experience and chops in the business.  Add to that, a real skill in crafting songs.  This is good stuff; my newest favorite recording.  I like eclectic and this cd is all over the place.  Some gentle noodling on one cut. On another, sacred steel backing from Robert Randolph on a gospelly number.  Say Amen.  Another with a hook and sound that Al Green, circa early 1970s, would just work 'til it cried.  And wait a minute ... is that Eric Clapton? Yes, it is, and the songs sound as if they've played together forever.   Robertson is in fine voice too ... so to speak.  I always wondered about vocalists like Robertson.  At what point do raspy voiced guys with little range decide to go out front?  I'll tell you when.  When you can sing the songs like you understand them ... like you know them ... like you love them.  Robertson's lead is perfect.  The right voice at the right time for the right songs.   I guess I can't give it a fair review as a background for running, because I enjoy it so much.  Every song was different, and satisfying.  Anytime I (and I suspect, you too ..) get that much fun from a recording, the rhythm and rhyme are just fine, no matter if it works for someone else or not.

Powerful Memories

Music On The Run

Jennifer Hudson - I Remember Me

When I was little I had one of those balsa wood planes with the rubber band motors. Just wind that rascal up 'til the rubber band was all knotted with torque, then let 'er fly. Who knew where it was going to go?  More than likely straight into something hard, and it was gonna get there in a hurry. I get the same feeling when I listen to Jennifer Hudson. This woman can flat wind it up and let it go, but Hudson doesn't hit anything hard with this cd. Her other interests … the acting … the commercials … apparently have all moved her further from that American Idol big stage sameness. But you can't run from who you are, and Hudson is Diva with a capital “D.” This woman's voice is larger than any spotlight, and she has shown a real ability to work the instrument. The songs on I Remember Me are, however, reminiscent of the Idol experience. All songs about big emotions... disappointment, love, redemption and always with the redemptive power of believing in oneself. Even the uptempo numbers mine the same themes. This is a solid recording and I liked it. I suspect in the near future, you won't so much attend a Hudson concert, as she grants you an audience.
As far as listening on the run, I ordinarily wouldn't pick this first. Oprahesque ruminations are not my first choice for a three mile distraction. Full disclosure though: I listened to this on a particularly hilly route and to be honest, the “I can survive ..” lyrics and the thumping rhythms gave me a little mental bump to get up the soul sucking hill on the way home. I think I'll see if it works the next time I come this way.

Good Refuge

Music on the Run

Abigail Washburn - City Of Refuge

This one must be driving radio program directors crazy. Every one but those who do playlists for college or public radio stations. Those dudes (or dudettes )take joy in stacking genres to give listeners whiplash.) Everyone is going: What does Abigail Washburn do? They gave it a shot. You'll find City Of Refuge in bluegrass or americana (by the way, what is americana anyway? Nuevo folk? Alt country punk? What? ) Yeah, Ms. Washburn is those bluegrass, americana and more. There's the obligatory banjo, fiddle and mandolin, and Washburn has a wonderful vibrato, burnished with an East Tennessee lilt (even though I think she's from near Chicago.)  There is some wonderful bluegrass here, but then on another cut, the fiddle morphs into a violin, the banjo echoes a harp, and jeez, is that a tuba playing a bass line? Then another cut that sounds as if it's channeling Fleetwood Mac followed by a hard-as-lard bluegrass/appalachian number where she pushes the vocals right out of her sinuses. Music from a mason jar.  Yeah, that's getting it done, old school country style. And it's all good, because it's all interesting and it's all unpredictable.
That makes it a good companion on the run too. The rhythms are strong, and the songs are so catchy and unpredictable that your interest never drifts too far from the music. Besides, just thinking of all those radio folks who make playlists so predictable you can set a clock by them, agonizing over how to categorize Washburn, gives me a giggle.

Have Mercy

Music On The Run

Fistful Of Mercy

My first impression is that these guys need to rehearse more. Don't get me wrong.  Dhani Harrison, Joseph Arthur, and Ben Harper certainly have reputations; well earned reputations as artists and performers who have proven themselves. Just not together. Just about every song sounded like some one got them together and said, “... you dudes could just get together and jam. It'll be magic!” But, no prestidigitation here. It's good. All three can play. All three can sing. It just doesn't sound like they played and sang together very often. That's okay too, but every song sounds like three guys around sitting on chairs in a circle, just making it up as they go along. They channel Crosby, Stills and Nash on a couple. Catchy songs. A little ragged along the edges. But, just about every cut make me think of a mashup of every singer-songwriter that's ever swayed a young girl's interest. Only one song seemed to break the mold. The guys do a tub-kicking number with lyrics that say something like “ … lay awake, daylight …. pillow and a gun ...” Staying up all night with a gun under the pillow.” Alright, that's getting it done. Then back to mellow marshmallow stuff. Alright on a summer night, nursing a cold one as the sun goes down, but not much for getting your edge on. As far as a runnng partner, this didn't hold my interest long or often. I can listen to it on the back patio, but as for on the run … see above.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Family Mumford

Music On The Run
Mumford And Sons – Sign No More

I was late to this one. The Mumford & Sons cd has received quite a few praising reviews, but it was also described as folk. Folk and widespread praise in the same sentence? Yeah, that happens all the time. I'm a boomer … came of age in the '60s, so I heard my share of folk, but this Mumford & Sons is not your father's folk music. It's also not the sort of bluegrass/ pop/ alternative hybrids like The Duhks or Nickel Creek. It's … well .. it's folk, but european busker music in a way. Did you see the movie “Once?” (A great movie by the way) This Mumford & Sons cd reminded me of that. Honest, straightforward music with strong vocals and musicianship. I have to admit, not being an aficianado, that I felt as if I should be sitting in a dark pub drinking warm ale, getting ready to scream for Manchester United. I enjoyed it, but not so much for running. The rhythms were solid, but some of the songs were soft, gentle things, and didn't grab enough of my attention to keep me from thinking I had to buy better shoes for the next time I wanted to take a long run.