March 2010

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Holly’s latest post at The Song In My Head Today got me thinking a little bit about country music. I don’t have a lot of exposure to country music and, while I’ve been listening to more of it over the last few years, I’m aware that on some level I don’t get it. There’s a small sub-set of country music which I like a lot, the more folky or singer/songwriter segment, but outside of that I find myself becoming lost.

So I’ve been thinking about the differences between country music and the pop music that I’m more comfortable with. I have some vague thoughts that I’m trying to pull together but, for now, I wanted to link to this video of Jerry Jeff Walker giving a fantastic live performance from, I’d guess, the late 70s. Watching it makes me feel like there really was a split between country music and pop music at some point. I know there’s always been a lot of crossover (Patsy Cline? Dolly Parton) even before the 90s when the pop side of country became essentially indistinguishable from mainstream popular music. But watching that song (“Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother”) he really shares a musical idiom with the audience; it’s obvious that both he and the audience are really comfortable and enjoying themselves, and it isn’t the same performance vocabulary as pop music.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, and tell me in comments if you think that’s the case, but go watch the video, it’s worth it.

Holly Hughes, at The Song In My Head Today, has an excellent list of the top 100 singles in her life. I have a longer response, but for now I just wanted to link and say that compiling a list like that shows dedication beyond the call of duty for a blogger.

Also, I have a youtube video that I would like to link to. I still have somewhat mixed feelings about youtube as a source of new music, but I’m definitely coming around to it’s virtues. Not only is it an easy way to access a large body of music, there are definitely times when the video is an advantage. Take this video of Lyle Lovett performing “That’s Right You’re Not From Texas.” I love watching the band. If I had just heard the song it would have taken me a while to appreciate how worked out his arrangement is. I mean, it’s such a standard in pop music production to have instruments drop in for a couple measures in a song and then disappear, but it’s different to see the person standing there with the violin holding his bow waiting for the moment when his part will arrive — and looking very much part of the band. They all look like they’re enjoying being part of a large band and being into the song even while they’re just waiting.

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been listening to a bunch of new music that I’ve liked, lately. I want to go through some of that that. I don’t necessarily have a lot to say about all of it, but I want to share. Let me start with Ian Dury who, as it turns out, is the subject of an upcoming biopic.

I didn’t know who he was, but I saw him mentioned in the liner notes of a Squeeze compilation. I read his AMG bio and decided it was worth getting some of his music. It turns out to be very likable. I had imagined, from the description, something geekier, but it’s smart, clever, goofy pop music without being geeky (I suspect that the cultural divide has something to do with that judgement).

One of my favorite songs is “Razzle In My Pocket” (a true story) about him shoplifting a “lads magazine” as a kid. The performance is good, but his songwriting is what stands to me in that track. The pacing is masterful. It tells the story in a very compact way that, nevertheless, feels detailed rather than like a summary. He’s able to easily blend his ability as a raconteur with the music. It feels very unforced.

The other thing I notice about his performance is that it’s unhurried but, at the same time, it feels like he’s always looking ahead to the next turn in the story. Not in bad way but it feels like as he describes each moment there’s something in his delivery that seems to always be saying, “and, just wait until you here what happened after that.”

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