Sunday, June 22, 2014

Music That Sucks

I haven't written about music lately.  I've been making music, though.  Just finished recording a re-write of a hilarious John Prine song, Crazy as a Loon. It reflects my own brand of mental illness.  It was great fun.  When a song is autobiographical, they lyrics just about write themselves, and playing a country song was a nice change of pace. I try to keep things interesting. My previous recording was a love song, and before that, heavy rock.

But regarding other current popular music - whatever's on the Billboard charts, new artists - good grief, most of it really, really sucks. 

I listen to a lot of music; certainly not every genre, but a wide variety.  I watch a lot of concerts and other live performances on two satellite channels. Then, there's my iTunes radio and iTunes store.   Every Saturday, I listen to the classic Prairie Home Companion live radio show. It hardly gets more diverse than that.

I did a quick screen shot of some stuff I was checking out.  There are at least a dozen major music markets on my iTunes, and that's not counting a wide variety of rock, blues, jazz and pop. I thought it was interesting that although I appreciate a wide variety of styles, I could find very little new albums, songs and artists that appealed to me.

We all have specific, individual tastes.  Some are broad, some more narrowly defined.  But to find something that I enjoyed listening to, much less something I wanted to buy, that was tough.  I'm sure my own music career and journey have given me more criteria I might apply to a song, but you'd think there would be more out there that might appeal to me.  Apparently not.  Well not a lot of contemporary stuff, anyway.  And I don't think I'm stuck in the past.  I love something about most every musical decade.  As a child, I grew up listening to the Big Bands and vocal icons like Sinatra and Crosby. They were followed by Elvis, the Beatles and everything after that.  I wasn't particularly fond of the disco movement, although it was fun performing it live, perhaps more for the visual surroundings (ahem, cough) if not the music, itself.  Eh, the Bee Gees wrote a few decent tunes during that time.

Otherwise, I've always listened to and performed everything from classic country to hard rock.  And lately, as markets go, the overall quality of some of the country material might be higher than that of the rock genres.

When I listen to my iTunes radio these days, it's tailored to artists like John Hiatt, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Marcia Ball, Jimmy Buffett, Eric Clapton, J.J. Cale, Diana Krall and Zac Brown - to name a few.

What have I heard new with the past year or so that caught my attention?  As female vocalists go (with a hot back-up band), I like Imelda May.  Listen to Johnny Got a Boom Boom.  Catchy kind of a throwback tune, and live, onstage, Imelda and the band have great stage presence.  As rock goes, Theory of a Deadman has a solid, not obnoxiously loud rock sound.  The vocals are good, and lyrics creative.  I suggest Lowlife or Bad Girlfriend.

It's not a matter of being overly-critical or unable to appreciate less complex forms.  Just today I liked hearing a new duet by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Hanging Up My Heart.  This song was written and engineered in a very classic, old-school country style.  It was simple and clean sounding and still had such a level of precision to it.  

I watched dozens of new acts on Jools Holland's music program and many of them are performing almost painfully simple songs; very few chord changes, very elementary percussion and the lyrics…..meh.  And I'm not comparing it to people like Bob Dylan or Tom Waits.  It's just pretty thin, limp and watery stuff.  Fluff.  There are a whole slew of bands doing sound-alike material, much of it with a fairly neanderthal dance club percussion. 

If there's any similarity between my musical tastes and my culinary tastes, I appreciate subtle flavors, but there's something to be said for full flavors, texture and presentation.  Last week, I watched an absolutely riveting live performance by David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) from Gdansk, Poland, recorded a few years ago, and the man has such an astounding sense of timing and phrasing.  It's not just about playing loud or fast, or a lot of notes.  He plays with intent.

So I don't think a lot of this contemporary music sucks  just because I'm old.

It genuinely sucks.

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