The old saw about "the first album was their best" is often true, truer than most artists want to admit. And no where in music is that state more widespread than with singer/songwriters who only have a guitar, their voice and their material and no band to hide behind. Trying to hack out a career as a solo act is a bitch. Takes guts or overweening ego to get through it. Most soloists fall prey to the natural reaction which is to pour all their best ideas into the first project. That's cool until you're faced with coming up with a second and perhaps a third record. Yet sometimes the process can reverse itself, and after a fallow period a songwriter can recharge, again have something to say, and they come through with a late season masterpiece.
With increasing frequency, a litany of strange packages began arriving in my mail recently. Inside were, and continue to be, a series of very strange discs, entitled, Rockabye Baby!, that purport to be rock tunes made into lullabies. My first reaction? Smoking crack, as well all well saw in the 90's, can be a terrible, terrible thing.
You gotta hand it to The New York Times; they do try and cover the audio industry. And when it comes to dumbing it down, they truly aren't fucking around. Rather than have to read an article from last week's Circuits section on how MP3's might someday sound better, A Quest for That Warm Sound of Old (June 5, 2007), which was printed just above a piece entitled Making Tunes a Fixture on the Patio (snaring more Jersey readers is obviously an NYT priority) here are the some beauties, salient or otherwise.
"The more you turn it up, the punchier it sounds…"
"…tries to sweeten digital sound by putting back what compression has taken out."
"…what are people really going for, accurate reproduction or pleasing reproduction?"
"Our technology tricks your brain into hearing something that isn’t there."
"When you can't hear the difference anymore, it's overkill."
"The process is never perfect."
"With a good recording, the quality may be improved by tweaking the playback."
"Don’t throw away your records yet."
Of the many advantages of living in NYC, Doctors has got to be one of the biggest. Many, many good, no nonsense ones to choose from, if you or your insurance can pay. Cosmic Justice. I survived HE 2007 only to fall prey to my own impatience. Instead of sliding the vegetable drawer in my refrigerator out slowly like a normal person, my tired, irritable and schmoozed out self jerked it and it jumped its track and smashed my foot. Damned apples and carrots weigh too friggin' much. After three days of denial and whistling in the graveyard about how it was gonna be fine, I finally broke down and dipped a damaged toe in the health care system. One scalpel slice later and things are looking up on the sore paw front.
Today, May 14, is a momentous day in music history as the anniversary of the passings of Keith Relf (Yardbirds), Chet Baker and one of the humankind's greatest musical talents, the one, the only, the chairman of the board, Francis Albert Sinatra who died in 1998. Somewhere, Frank's still got the world on a stringRingADingDing!
What a great show HE 2007 turned out to be. Large crowds and much good feeling all around. If two channel audio is truly dying then I didn't see it. Lots of good sounding rooms, much impressive, well-priced gear, a successful RAVE awards and a hotel with a key location all made for a very successful show.
Reissues. Hey, I don't care who you are, everyone has a guilty pleasure that's now been reissued on CD, possibly with bonus goodies. What's gonna happen to reissues in the big, new, alldigital, alldownload, allthetime world is an easy one: listeners will do the same thing they do with new records, download the tracks they want and leave the lesser tracks as scraps. Funny how it's now possible to think of cuts of meat and record albums in the same breath: bites of choice flesh you eat surrounded by bone, fat and gristle you leave. It must make musicians feel real good to see their collection eviscerated in this way. You can say it serves them right for filling out albums with lesser tracks but then there's that creeping alchemy that happens upon further listening when some of the tracks deep into the record become essential. How many album tracks have you grown fond of after repeated listens versus those that jumped out at you the first time you dropped the needle or pressed play?
Here's a weird one. I was recently going through CDs that sit on my shelves, in my collection so to speak, and for kicks I decided to check how much a random handful were worth on Amazon. Perhaps it's my naivet, but to my very great surprise, many were out of print. So let me get this straight, a business that needs catalog pieces right now as much as ever is allowing a significant portion of their holdings go out of print? Wow! I was at a party recently where I overheard this: "So do the big labels want to go out of business or is there another plan?"
Is it me or does Phil Spector, the Wall–of–Sound inventor turned murder suspect, look more and more like a middle aged woman, particularly with his new blonde doo. If I were his lawyer I might have asked that he not change his hairstyle from notoriously weird to super weird on the eve of the trial. The photos, CNN.com has some doozies, that are really, really strange. Him with that Doris Day gone mad hair waving a pistol around demanding God knows what? Whatever the verdict, the man needs supervision.
jazz fusion is a movement in music, that I have to say, often leaves me cold. Yeah, Bitches Brew is great and other masterworks of the genre obviously resonate, but shows like a rare appearance by guitarist David Torn that I caught on Tuesday night at Joe's Pub are less than thrilling.
Why rage against an ill wind? I realize that complaining incessantly about the ongoing plundering of rock, classic and otherwise, by Madison Avenue ain't gonna make it stop but is there no one who can resist the allure of cash?
SXSW Part 3
So it was definitely the year of the female singer at SXSW 2007. Lily Allen was sassy and backed by a horn section. White dudes hooting on tenors, always a good time. The person I was with turned to me about halfway through and said, "I like this but I can’t tell you why." I took that to be a good sign.