Saturday, December 29, 2007
The recording industry in 2007 did not seem to be any closer to developing a solid business model for selling and distributing music, but that is another sad story for the future. In the meantime, some of the new groups I came across and liked in 2007 included Regina Spektor, a talented pianist/singer from the Bronx by way of Russia; and her Swedish echo in Maia Hirasawa; Last Town Chorus, an off-beat cover group with a unique sound; two Israeli artists, Geve Alon, and Yau Decklebaum; Sense Field, a group that evolved from hard rock to emo to oblivion; Innocence Mission, who reemerged with a new album in 2007 that lived up to the group's name; Eleni Mandell, a talented singer/chanteuse; the Concretes, and Victoria Bergsman's new group, Taken by Trees both hold promise; Okkerfil River, an interesting sounding Austin indie group; Michael Nyman, a talented British composer of film/classical music; Jon Brion a multi-talented multi-instrumentalist, singer, American film music composer, and record producer; Scala and the Kolnasy Brothers, a young Belgium female chorus that dramatically covers modern rock hits; the Cinematic Orchestra, an inventive English flash-jazz group; Silversun Pickups, a smooth latter-day Smashing Pumpkins; the National, a group with a relaxed Leonard Cohen-like sound; Caribou, a feathery psychedelic Canadian group; Panda Bear, an experimental sound from Noah Lennix; Lamb, an inventive disco group; Sara Bareilles, a clever Internet popster; Kate Havneviks, a promising Norwegian indie rocker; Porn Sword Tobacco, an experimental group name for Henrik Jonsson from Göteborg, who assembles sounds, drifts away, picks up again, re-adjusts, levels noise, adds piano, guitar, organ, bass, and thinks of new chords; Amy Winehouse, a very talented but somewhat self-destructive force; Charlotte Hatherley , a spritely rocker; Marissa Nadler, an indie folker; Sophie Millman, a Russian/Canadian jazz singer; the Yellow Jackets, jazzers to the core; the Great Lake Swimmers, a group of fresh sounding Canadian indie folkers; Sallie Shapiro, an electro-poptress, and Emilie Autumn, a classically-trained turned goth violinist. There were also strong albums in 2007 from Radiohead, Wilco, Feist, Spoon, Josh Ritter, the Shins, and the Boss.
In live performances there were strong performances from stalwarts like Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello together, Vienna Teng, Southside Johnny, and the Boss. The year ended with a broadcast of Brian Wilson's Kennedy Center's award show--that gave him well-deserved recognition (he ironically smiled little after producing the well-regarded "Smile").
And so it was a very good year for music. And the next year looks like it could be equally good if not better. Happy New Musical Year!
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
The review was well-written, well-organized, and convincing in its enthusiasm. It was (in a way) everything the movie was not.
From the review, I could picture the movie I wanted to see. Unfortunately, that was not the movie I saw. Sure, I loved the music; there was a lot of great original Dylan, and some very good covers. And the movie had its moments--the prepubescent, African-American Dylan named Marcus was pure fun and his scene with Richie Havens was infectious. The town of Riddle was fun to visit. But much of the rest of it was not as much fun--especially the Richard Gere part as Billy the Kid, and the Julianne Moore part as Alice Fabian as Joan Baez, which was beginning to approach "A Mighty Wind."
For me, "I'm Not There," was partially, but not all there. For a neighboring moviegoer, it was a form of unusual, if not cruel punishment that was not quite torture, but she did not understand why she was being held there so long.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
In the fragmented i-podded society of today (see the post below), it is difficult to imagine many college students listening to just one DJ. But he was a special treat then, and he will be missed by one of the many fans who made him a part of their daily lives.
David Brooks had an interesting column on the segmenting of popular/rock music in our current society a couple of days ago. The column is at the following web address:
Brooks concludes that there is increased fragmentation in the music world and in our society and there is a loss of intergenerational togetherness in music today. While I agree that there is (and has been for a while) more fragmentation in the world of music and popular culture (magazines, etc) now, it is easy to get fragmented on the issue.
Now it is so much easier for people to produce and distribute a variety of sounds and views through the Internet and other electronic means, so it is natural to have fragmentation and it is not such a "negative." Our technology has made it easier to connect with one another, while also fragmenting us at the same time. As one letter to the editor after the Brooks column mentioned "[m]odern recording technologies allow virtually anyone to record music and make it available to listeners worldwide, a privilege once enjoyed exclusively by large record companies. As a result, major record companies have increasingly less control over what gets heard, while consumers have increasingly more." Another letter hailed the current rock, stating that "[t]he current music scene is more democratic than the monolith Mr. Brooks looks back upon fondly."
But also rock has always been a amalgam in varying degrees of rhythm 'n blues, jazz, country, folk songs and Broadway, among others. Wasn't there similar fragmentation in the rock of the 50's with a lot of regional hits that just did not make it to the national scene? We just did not know it as easily at the time. In the 60's and 70's did people just want there to be a unified counterculture, or a "mainstreaming of the counterculture" when in fact it was jumble of many styles being practiced and discovered?
It is an interesting topic. Please feel free in our seg-ment-ed soc-ie-ty to "discuss amongst yourselves" or discuss with me.
Friday, November 16, 2007
And Bruce seems especially angry these days about the politics of today--introducing the title song of his new album, “Magic,” with a comment about our “Orwellian times”--“what’s true can be made to seem like a lie, and what’s lying can be made to seem true.” Yet, he also seems playful and hopeful, singing "it's all right, it's all right, it's all right, yeah" in the chorus of "Lonesome Day," as he and his longtime home team, the tight nine-piece E Street Band surges past the disillusionment, the losses, the bewilderment, and the bitterness in the verses to the greater hopes of the American dream.
It's concert time in the first of two nights in the nation's capital, DC, and Bruce seems to have a special twinkle in his eyes, and sparkle in his voice for being in DC. He's "[s]o glad to be in your wicked--I mean, your beautiful city tonight." "Hey, this is where it happens! This is the City of Magic!" While he is not shy about mentioning the successes, and especially the failures of the capital city, Bruce and his band of merry men and women are there "tonight to do something about it! We're going to sing about it. We're musicians. It's a start."
And it is a start, with the goal and guiding principle of the performance calculated high--to deliver salvation and hope through song. And for a night, it does, as Bruce forges a special bond with his audience--each audience a new group to win over.
Bruce is the embodiment of vitality at the ripe young/old age of 58, belting out a continuous two-plus-hour, 24-song set that includes some of his greatest hits ("Born to Run," "Dancing in the Dark," "Badlands") and is heavy on songs from "Magic," his new album whose central figures are filled with angst, and isolation, alienation and disillusionment. I have frequently felt that Bruce's songs often sound very similar, but on this night, he even used that to his advantage. He played similar sounding songs together, and one flowed into another seamlessly and effectively.
The music is rooted in the grounds of American folk music; the nightime doo wop sounds of the street corners of the Bronx, or the boardwalks of Asbury Park; and in the glorious pop sound of the mid-town Manhattan Brill Building and in NY/LA Phil Spector's Wallll of Sounddd. The song have echoes in the glory days of the early rock ’n’ roll of the Elvis era and the post-World War II America that was invincible--prosperous, confident and outwardly unified. They move right through the trials and tribulations of the Vietnam era, when everything was being questioned, and land in the terror-threatened days of today—when there is still that ever present hope of a optimistic nation that refuses to stay down. The music may have been shaped elsewhere, but it comes straight from the hard working heart of Mr. Springsteen.
But no matter what the song, they are tightly drawn through the saxophone-solos of the heart and soul of the group, Clarence Clemons, the tight, straight to-the-beat drumming of Max Weinberg, the background singing of wife Patti Scialfa, the bass of Gary Tallent, the keyboard chords of Roy Bittan and Danny Federici, the fiddling of Soozie Tyrell, the triple-barreled guitar work of Nils Lofgren, Steve Van Zandt and Mr. Springsteen, and of course, the tireless vocals of the lead man, himself, Bruce. And when the band pauses, the audience sings at pretty good volume, and all burdens, all misgivings, and all loneliness are cast off once again for the hopes of tomorrow.
P.S. Some of my friends quibble that Bruce is nothing like he was in the early days when he used to do four hour shows, and move about the stage and up into the light towers, but for now, this will do just fine.
For the real reviews go to
Saturday, November 10, 2007
There were a number of recent articles in the NY Times that reflected the odd current and future state of the music and record industry (the continued and the somewhat outdated use of "record" also reflects the odd state). There were three recent tribute concerts in NYC involving the music of Dylan, Django Reinhardt, and Fats Domino--all seemed to revolve around the reverence for the artists. The tributes all sound interesting and all were all reviewed in NY Times at the following web addresses:
Also in the NY Times, was an interesting discussion about the present and future of the record industry at the following web address:
Then there's a story about how Billboard changed its record charts rules to allow in an example of the record industry's attempt at a "new marketing approach," the Eagles' new album being sold exclusively at Walmart. This story is at:
The stories (for me) signified how the greater talents in music continue to be reinvented through such means as tributes and reinterpretations, while the music industry continues to fall behind the technological advances, and makes lame efforts to reinvent itself.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
The Cyrkle was one of the better known folk-rock groups (a collection of crew-cutted students of Lafayette College) in the mid-60s that was an amalgam of the Beatles, Byrds, Dylan, and Paul Simon. They even had actual ties to the Beatles and Paul Simon. They were discovered by Nat Weiss, a lawyer/partner of Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager. According to Dawes, John Lennon suggested the Cyrkle's name and distinctive spelling. The Cyrkle opened for the Beatles on their final American tour. And their biggest hit the 1966 single, "Red Rubber Ball," was "penned" by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley. In 1966, I ran into a professor at Penn who thought that "Red Rubber Ball," was the perfectly constructed song--"a work of true art," he called it. While probably not works of art, the Cyrkle songs were certainly very hummable, and are on a number of soundtracks of the lives of baby-boomers.
After Dawes left the band, he turned to writing commercial jingles in the 70s and 80s, and a number of his jingles became "immortal in pop culture"--somewhat of a non sequitur or oxymoron. In addition to writing for Alka-Seltzer and 7Up, his catchier tunes appeared in ads for L'eggs hosiery ("Our L'eggs Fit Your Legs") and American Airlines ("We're American Airlines, Doing What We Do Best"). He and his jingle-writing wife collaborated on music for "Coke Is It," the McDonald's "You, You're the One" and, for American Airlines, "Something Special in the Air."
Dawes and his wife also wrote the book, music and lyrics for "Talk of the Town," a musical about members of the Algonquin Round Table. The show, first produced in 2004, had a nearly two-year run at the Bank Street Theater in New York before it moved as a cabaret show to the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel.
With Dawes passing, it is a "Turn Down Day" and "I don't dig it." But lo the memories will make us "think its gonna be alright..the worst is over now..the morning sun is shining like red rubber ball."
Friday, October 26, 2007
Bobby let me follow you down. Now, the Bobster will be shilling for the Cadillac car. Oh mama, can this really be the end? What is he stuck inside? Could the man be that much tangled up in green? How can the formerly scruffy one, the voice of his generation, sell his soul to the Cadillac Escalade, the gas guzzling symbol of all he was protesting against?
Well, times they are a changing from a reliable source and a blog:
The Dylan ad and some other promotional material plays on the XM radio web site at:
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Eric Clapton on Larry King's gabfest on Friday night was calmly revealing. Clapton on tour for his auto-bio and CD set, talked easily about his creative muses, his past addictions (including his zest for his friend's (George Harrison's) former wife Pattie B.), his perfectionism which led to him being a nasty person to work with, his tragic loss of his four year-old son, Conor, and now his mature and fun side fate, married to a much younger woman from Columbus, Ohio, where he claims to live an average-mid-America life part of the year. Clapton was refreshing.
Madonna is apparently taking another step to advance the further disintegration of the traditional recording industry (the litigious-minded RIAA and the established labels who don't have much of a clue on marketing rock in the 21st Century). Madonna is reportedly leaving her longtime record label to sign a $120m recording and touring contract with a concert promoter.
Radiohead has engineered perhaps the most promising move. Radiohead’s first major album since 2003 is available for download for whatever price you feel is appropriate. It is like visiting one of DC's art museums: you pay what you want to. If free seems appropriate, then free is it; if $8.99 seems fair, then.... The decision to bypass the big record labels and reach out directly to the public at the prices the public are willing to pay, might inspire shakeups in the music industry (apparently other groups are also considering similar approaches), and beyond. The “pay whatever" approach is refreshingly counter to the RIAA's lawsuits against grandmothers and students for downloads. A UK web site WhatPriceDidYouChoose.com. is surveying what people pay for the Radiohead album for posting on Record of the Day at the end of October. Interesting times ahead.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Just three years ago, the stadium, reborn and refurbished, had made it possible to bring back major league baseball to DC (after thirty-plus years of absence, and lonely treks to Baltimore). Now, RFK was being honored and abandoned by MLB one more time. Fortunately and fittingly, the Nationals rose to the occasion to beat the pennant-hungry Phillies (and their ace Cole Hamels) 5 to 3. Appropriately, the win enabled the Nats to finish their three-year, RFK stint with a home record of 122 wins and 121 loses, and to leave the fans with yet one more positive memory of baseball at RFK.
But this time, unlike in 1971, the Nats are just going across town--to a new home, to start a new tradition.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
But he goes on to conclude that "[c]lassical music isn't dying, but the term itself means less with every passing year - not because it represents an osteoporotic tradition, but because its ever-widening embrace includes musicians who refuse to be bound by notions of appropriateness." He cites various young hopes such as the NY group Alarm Will Sound (who I am listening to right now); they have a sprightly, modern sound. The full article is at the following web address:
Davidson ends the piece blaming the lazy, traditional classic-critic for the exaggerated death of classical music--"There are no accepted standards or styles, which means that the critic lives on shifting sands. How much easier and more rhetorically satisfying it is just to pronounce last rites on the whole thing than to strike out across an unstable landscape and send back a series of un-final reports." Breaking barriers in the unstable landscape is Alex Ross' (of New Yorker fame) blog "the Rest is Noise," which provided the valuable link to the Davidson's article.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
A new DC tradition is the Strathmore Music Center's (appropriately located in the suburb of "Rockville MD") annual tribute concert. Last year at about this time, it was a tribute to the music of Neil Young, and this year (last Wednesday) it was a tribute to the music of Bob Dylan (it was a good preparation for the Dylan/Elvis (C that is) concert coming up in DC/Columbia MD at the end of September.
The tributes' line-up consisted mostly of Eastern seaboard and DC talent (some Grammy and Wammie (the DC version of Grammy) winners) includes over 47 musicians including:
Bill Kirchen (from Commander Cody and other fame), The Nighthawks with Tom Principato, Tommy Lepson & Bill Holland, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, The Grandsons, Patty Reese, Laura Burhenn, Luke Brindley, Jon Carroll, John Jennings, Mike Cotter, The Hanson Brothers, The Cravin' Dogs, Nightman, Billy Coulter, Paper Umbrella, Eric Brace, Bill Starks, Tom Miller, and even a string quartet.
Not exactly household names, but a great concert of talented musicians, putting their spin on Dylan's music for about three and a quarter fun-filled hours. The sold out crowd paid their $7 joyfully and the event was topped off by a version of Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, led by a New Orleans style jazz band marching down the aisles, and each line was such by a different musician singing lead.
My other favorites were a soft "Baby Let Me Follow Me Down," the Eric Von Schmidt tune (as "interpolated" by the Bobster); "Most of the Time"; a wild "Everything is Broken"; a wistful "Simple Twist of Fate"; a John Jennings (of Mary Chapin Carpenter fame) brooding version of "Idiot Wind"; and a Byrdesque "Mr. Tamborine Man." I've been listening recently to my dollar, discarded library purchase of a used "Oh Mercy," and that may explain in part my list.
Dylan's philosophy was summed up in a line "no one stays in one place too long...," and it fit the variety of the concert.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Although rock was always a classic mix of rhythm and blues, country, and jazz with a few other genres mixed in, the Wall Street Journal in an article yesterday notes a recent, large uptick in the mixing of musical genres, accelerated by the flat world of the Internet. The interesting article is at the following Web address:
Will it have a long-standing impact on music or will it just be a short-term blip based on the current fascination with the Internet?
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Phil Rizzuto, the "Scooter," was the talented Yankee shortstop who worked hard to make the technical tools of his trade look easy--his smooth fielding, great bunting, and clutch hitting seemed effortless. He was a Yankee that even a Brooklyn Dodger fan could root for (it turned out he was from Brooklyn, and once tried out for the Dodgers). Rizzuto was a Hall of Famer, but he was passed over for the Hall of Fame 15 times by the writers and 11 times by the Veterans Committee. Finally, a persuasive speech by Ted Williams (a pretty good authority) seemed to push Rizzuto into Cooperstown in 1994. "If we'd had Rizzuto in Boston, we'd have won all those pennants instead of New York," Williams often said.
Rizzuto would do anything to win (all with a smile and grace), but he did not take himself too seriously. As a long-time Yankee announcer he was a comfort in chaos, a natural who gave classic status to "Holy Cow," and the Meatloaf song, "Love by the Dashboard Light" (which used his call of a game to achieve a strategic success). Rizzuto was a baseball gentle man who stood tall (in spite of his relatively short size) in contrast to many of our current day players, but whose tradition is being carried on nicely by the Yankee's current shortstop, Derek Jeter.
Merv Griffin is another "down-to-earth" (no pun intended) celebrity who made a recent exit. Merv was mostly remembered in the mass media as a TV impresario (credited as creator of recent era's two most popular game shows, "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy"). He was also remembered for his talk shows, in which he made easy patter a landmark that even Seinfeld's Kramer could relate to. In one memorable episode, Kramer had purchased the set of the Griffin talk show and used it as his living room; Kramer put his all of his visitors (including Jerry, Elaine, and George) into the set and started the easy, now fake-sounding, talk show patter.
I also remembered Merv's hosting of Play Your Hunch early in his career, 1958-1962, when he was a modest, unassuming, former band singer, and easy-to-take game show host of a clever game show. One day, Jack Paar accidentally emerged onto the set of Play Your Hunch during a live broadcast (Paar was superstitiously trying to avoid the elevators at Rockefeller Center), and Griffin held Paar captive for a friendly, unplanned interview. As legend has it, Paar was so impressed by Merv's effort to hold him, that he brought Merv on as a replacement host on the Paar version of the The Tonight Show, and that started Merv's more than 20-year talk show career (1965-1986). Merv made his projects seem easy and accessible, somewhat like the work of Scooter Rizzuto. Merv added much to the lure (or lore) of TV.
The CD and digital sound were first created on August 17, 1982, after the first CD first went into production at a Philips plant in Germany. For the record (pun intended), the first CD, 25 years ago was a copy of "The Visitors" by Abba, with the first batch going on sale in the retail market in November that year. It led to our supposedly better sounding, more portable world of digital music and data. Or do we continue to miss vinyl?
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Beckham was a bit rusty, and apparently not at his best, but he displayed some of his ball handling (or should I say ball footling) skills in his short 21-minute stint. And, of course, every time he touched the ball, there were screams and light bulbs flashing, a la the Beatles coming to America.
Whether the Beckham's appearances will spark higher levels of interest in soccer in America for the long-term is not clear. But on a rainy Thursday night in DC, there was a high level of interest, adrenaline, and promise.
Friday, August 3, 2007
The new media will keep taking away viewers, readers, and listeners from TV, newspapers, movies, radio, and the recording industry until the mass media learns how to co-exist and play better with the new media.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
the article includes a variety of views on blogging and the so-called blogosphere.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Sunday, July 1, 2007
The points are well-taken, but this niche effect has probably led to same positives--more types of music being heard and some broadening of our tastes across what used to be musical boundaries. It is not clear whether it really is divisive. The article mirrors some of the points in the book, The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, on businesses being able to sell to smaller, more diverse audiences.
I welcome readers' comments.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Sunday, June 17, 2007
In another forum, I posted a version of my previous post, "Cutting the Classics," and received a number of responses. One response indicated that the press cuts in classical music may be warranted because "classical music culture" can be "stuffy," "snobbish," and "exclusive," and there is often a tendency for the same old classical warhorses to dominate each concert, crowding out the contemporary.
While this may be true to a degree, there are promising signs including the many wonderful young classical musicians coming up (some who appear on the NPR weekly show "From the Top"). Other positive signs include the successful makeover of DC NPR radio station, WETA-FM, which had been a news and talk station for awhile, and was reformatted back to classical. Now it plays more than just the usual classical "warhorses," and it is drawing high ratings. The symphony orchestra at one of our local high schools, the McLean High School Symphony Orchestra, (with which I have stayed associated long after my daughters left school) plays a number of modern classical pieces along with its classical standards, and at times, has even played classical versions of Metallica, Cream, Queen, and Pearl Jam songs--it all works well. There are also the classical crossover projects of McCartney, Joel, Costello, and Sting-some successful, some less so.
My view is that newspapers often seem to get it wrong when it comes to music. Most newspapers and other popular media were slow to cover rock 'n roll as a viable form of music, and now, they seem primarily to cover rock, and ready to abandon a still vibrant form of music--classical.
In Saturday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ), there is an article about the decline of classical reviewers in newspapers by one of WSJ's classical critics, Greg Sandow (who in a previous article recommended that modern classical be called "alt classical" to get contemporary attention). Yesterday, he wrote the following:
...The last thing they should do, in my view, is blame the press. "Newspapers don't care about art or culture!" people cry. But I'd turn that around and ask if people in the classical-music business really understand the current state of our world. Because here's something else I learned back in the '90s when I talked to those opera-company publicists. One thing any publicist wants is advance coverage, preview articles about whatever's being publicized. Once, the opera publicists said, they'd get these automatically. But that had stopped. "You're doing 'La Traviata'?" an editor might say. "You did it three years ago. What's the story now?"
For orchestras, this could hit even harder. "You're playing Brahms? You played Brahms last week!" Classical music can look predictable to the outside world, and (to be honest) not very interesting. Same old, same old. Great classical masterworks, played by acclaimed classical musicians.
So the classical-music world needs to look at two things: what it offers and how it talks about what it offers. Why are we playing Brahms? What does Brahms give us that Mozart, Feist, or Bruce Springsteen can't? And how, exactly, is this week's Brahms performance different from last week's?...
While Greg Sandow gives the press a too-easy "pass," he also raises some good points aimed at the "classical-music establishment." As Sonny and Cher almost said, De-bate goes on...
Monday, June 11, 2007
In a recent article, a New York Times writer reported that the jobs of classical music critics "have been eliminated, downgraded or redefined at newspapers in Atlanta, Minneapolis and elsewhere around the country and at New York magazine, where Peter G. Davis, one of the most respected voices of the craft, said he had been forced out after 26 years."
It was not so many years ago, that the major dailies did not stoop to reporting on rock and roll and pop music, and just reported on classical music with a little twist of jazz thrown in for a small measure of coolness. Now the tables have turned and it is a little sad to see the newspapers headed towards another extreme.
Is it just another example of bottom line, "what-sells" journalism, and the struggles of newspapers fighting to stay alive with younger readers? Or is there another force at work? I hope it is not the sign of dying newspapers taking classical music with it. Classical music deserves the exposure, just as rock did a few years earlier (possibly even more so). There is room for many forms of music in the news pages.
The article is at the following web address:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/09/arts/music/09crit.html?ref=arts