Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nick's Birthday

Nick with one of his and my favorite singers, the legendary Ray Price at the Perot Theater

Nick with one of his favorite bands: House of Heroes

Today--August 31, 2010--is Nick's 17th birthday. As parents we are quite proud and amazed at Nick. God has blessed him with musical talent (largely from his mother) and a voracious appetite for reading (largely from his father).

As you might note from his reviews, Nick has an incredibly eclectic range of musical knowledge. Thankfully, I still know more about the Golden Age of Country Music than he may ever know, but he knows music by moderns and oldies, by rockers and blue grass artists, by folks of every race, musical genre, and style. He knows details about music that are astounding. He often tells me things like, "I wonder why X went from playing bass for the Something or Others in the 1970s to playing in a some-other-kind-of-group band in the 1990s. Why he even did a cover for Y."
He might as well be talking about calculus as far as my understanding is concerned. (And he is taking calculus this year.)Just look at his list of favorites on the right.)

While I catechized him in the great traditions of country, bluegrass, gospel, and some other types of music, he has widened my range of interests. I was country before Barbara Mandrell thought country was cool, so I grew up listening to Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe, rather than the musicians of the 60s. I was mourning--long after the fact--the sad early death of Patsy Cline while people my age were listening to what I wrote off as long haired noise. Thanks to Nicholas, I have grown to like Simon and Garfunkel, Lynyrd Skynyrd, U-2, B.B. King, and some of the more recent Christian rock bands (which I used to think was a contradiction in terms). I must add that I can only take this loud stuff in small doses and have to retreat back to where I can listen to Ernest Tubb, Ricky Skaggs, or Ralph Stanley.
Nick and I have encouraged each other in our love of Bob Dylan.

With all his factual knowledge of music, he is also a really good singer, an ever improving guitarist, a potentially good piano player, and a promising song writer. Not bad for a student whose major interest is literature and history.

Of course, as a teenager with an older father, we have real serious communication and relationship battles. He doesn't agree with me over James Fenimore Cooper or Jim and Jesse McReynolds or Eddie Arnold. And I don't know if the poor kid could accurately distinguish between Henry Wallace's politics and those of George C. Wallace. I continually warn him of the consequences of his mental lapses and rebellion. These and a few other serious flaws aside, God has blessed me and Stephanie and the rest of our family and friends with Nick.

Happy birthday Nick.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Gig

By Nick.

Lately the other proprietor of the blog has been giving me some grief about how few comments I have on my posts. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that I am so hip and cool that no one who reads this blog can understand my ultrasophisticated musical taste. Or something like that. Anyway...
Possibly the hardest task in writing is to review yourself. This can go in one of two equally bad direction. The first is to come up with some sort of prideful listing of your accomplishments:"I did this and this and this..." No one wants to read some guy who talks about himself the entire time. The second trap is to come off with a feigned humility, with something like "Well, I went and did such-and-such, but it wasn't very good, because I'm bad at everything. I'm even bad at Dynasty Warriors." (By the way, if you are bad at Dynasty Warriors, then you are probably a complete and total loser. My condolences.) The only way to avoid this trap is to let someone else review you. This is hard when it comes to a concert review, but I'll try.
The event that I was performing at was a "Teen Night" (sounds suspicious) at the local mall, which was comprised of an open mic and a fashion show. It had been a long time since I had played an open mic, and now that I had learned the lesson to never perform Johnny Cash songs in public, it was time to dust off the old six-string and head back out into the world.
When we arrived at the event, we were about halfway through the fashion show. This consisted mainly of people walking down a catwalk while some guy talked loudly about their rhinestone-studded clothes and ended every presentation with "She's buying this outfit for the low price of $200." Behind the stage I could see a drum kit, and it looked like a band was going to play, which was weird, given the fact that it was the mall.
I went backstage and using a combination of threats and bribes, was able to get myself squeezed in to the lineup.
The first singer to get up and perform was a fifteen-year-old-looking girl whose name I did not catch who was singing some karaoke. Halfway into her first song, I realized she was performing a piano rendition of Lady GaGa's "Poker Face" (Which is a very innapropriate song.), so I exited the scene.
The aforementioned fifteen-year-old girl's sister was slated next, and I caught the last strains of "Lead Me To The Cross" when I got back. A bit of a contrast with "Poker Face", I thought.
After her, one of the girls who had been a model in the show got up to sing and play guitar on a song that she wrote "for a guy she liked." Let's hope the guy liked girls with strained sounding voices. After that effort, and a karaoke song that she performed, it was time for yours truly to perform. You can find the video of my lackluster performance of the Beatles' "Across The Universe" on Central Mall Texarkana's Facebook page. That's all I'm going to say.
My performance ended to the sound of thunderous applause. This was because I was introducing the next band, Like Tyrants

This was the inaugural show for the band. This was also the the part where my mom left. Like Tyrants is a Hardcore band. For the uninitiated, Hardcore is what happened when Metal and Punk had a child who sat in his parents's basement and played Dungeons and Dragons all day. The first song that they performed sounded like incoherent noise, partially because of the fact that none of their microphones were working. Their next song had working vocals, but was dragged on like most hardcore songs do. The vocals were run-of-the-mill Emo/Hardcore, except for the lead singer's extremely annoying high-pitched scream, and the entire band seemed amateurish. The worst problem, though, was the singer's lack of stage presence: He had the entire catwalk to work with, but he remained glued to the one spot. This was unforgivable in a genre where theatrics usually (and in my opinion, should) take the place of musical talent as the main draw. A charismatic vocalist like Matt Shelton from the Wedding, for instance, would have taken advantage of the unique setup.
I can't complain too much. There are so few places to go see a concert in Texarkana, especially if you're under eighteen, that having something like this in the Mall was a welcome break. I eagerly hope that the Mall hosts more events like this, and look forward to attending and reviewing them. Just please book something other than only Hardcore bands

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Stanley Brothers

In reading Ralph Stanley's memoirs, I have been struck (and saddened) by the hardships they faced as musicians. They traveled the country, spent long nights driving from show to show, worked their hardest, held high standards for their performances, assembled great bands, and still barely survived. The music business is always hard, but it was particularly hard for folks who adhered to certain types of music that they--and a coterie of loyal fans--loved, but that did not reach broader audiences.

With the passage of time, the Stanley Brothers have achieved high honors and fame for their music. Politicians and musicians have hailed their works. But in their day, they were barely surviving. Elvis and the youth revolution in music was devastating to many country musicians. It is ironic because Elvis loved old time country and gospel music. Many in country music responded with electricity, changes in hair and dress styles, and productive techniques to produce "the Nashville sound." Lots of good music came out of "the Nashville sound," but it was compromised, modernized, and urbanized. The older musicians went hungry.

What salvaged Bluegrass music and Mountain music was the folk festivals. Crowds of wild, often not-very-country looking young people flocked to the festivals to hear accustic, old-time folk music with tunes and lyrics reaching back in time to the hills of Appalachia and the further back to the glens and dales of Scotland.

Even though the Stanley Brothers were fighting to survive, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were enjoying amazing success. Flatt and Scruggs appeared at Carnegie Hall; Flatt and Scruggs provided the theme song for the popular Beverly Hillbillies show and they also appeared on occasion on the show; Flatt and Scruggs provided the theme music for the movie "Bonnie and Clyde." Flatt and Scruggs were traveling the country in a big bus, enjoying fame and financial success.

Yet, the Stanley Brothers were equally as talented as Flatt and Scruggs. Carter Stanley was one of the better songwriters and stylists of his time. Ralph's banjo method was different froom Earl Scruggs, but then, only Bach could have come close to playing an instrument as good as Earl. (I'll bet in heaven, Bach sometimes says, "Bill (Monroe), you take the next licks on this song.")
The Stanley Brothers had assembled an outstanding band with a great array of music from their own compositions and other things they had gathered here and there.

Success was slow for the Stanley Brothers. Carter died in 1966 and Ralph trudged on. Often Ralph was instrumental in fostering the musical careers of young musicans like Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs. Finally, when the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" came out, the world discovered Ralph Stanley. It was the key song of that movie--"Man of Constant Sorrow"--that was originally a Stanley Brother classic. It was Ralph Stanley who shook the world with his haunting, a cappella rendition of "O, Death" in the KKK scene of the movie, and it was another Stanley Brothers' song, "Angel Band" that was played at the end of the movie.

After that movie, Ralph Stanley enjoyed an incredible amount of attention and financial success. He was 75 at the time. A major recording company signed him on. He was inducted into the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. He became a 75 year old overnight success. Even political leaders courted Stanley. Unfortunately, Stanley, being an old Truman Democrat, has been duped by such politicians as John Edwards and Barack Obama. (He supports Democrats because he thinks they help the more poor and needy.)

The Stanley Brothers have yet to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Along with Cowboy Copas and a few others, these fellows should recieve that ultimate honor.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fair To Midland-Fables From A Mayfly:What I Tell You Three Times is True

Trips to the Friends of the library sale downtown usually don’t reveal much. Other than classic literature (I.e. Dickens, Byron, etc.), most of the books tend to be pulp fiction, New Age conspiracy theory texts, and great novels like Fat White Vampire Blues (I kid you not. That is a real book. It was featured.) The music section is similarly deficient. Some old show tunes records, tapes of generica, and Cds of unsuccessful country artists is what generally shows up, and nothing new ever comes in. I should retract that statement-occasionally something new comes in. While combing through the Cds one more time, I found the oddly titles Fables From a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True by the equally oddly names Fair to Midland. I was intrigued by the fairy-tale influenced album art and the title (The second part of it comes from a Lewis Carroll poem.), and since it was a dollar, which is less than what you pay for “Crazy Train” on iTunes, I picked it up. It was worth the dollar.
Fair to Midland’s sound can best be described as a blend of indie rock and heavy metal. The band is signed on to Serjical Strike records, which was started by the singer from System of a Down, probably the most spastic metal band either. Most of the songs feature the sort of headbanging choruses found in heavy metal bands. The oddly named Darroh Sudderth’s vocals are high-pitched and quavering, like an indie singer, and he sounds similar to Falling Up’s lead vocalist, with occasional reminiscences of Edison Glass and Michael Stipe from R.E.M. Sudderth has a greater range than all the above, as he can go from piercing high pitched singing, to a low-pitched growling. Unfortunately, the only song he showcases his range and screaming on is Dance of The Manatees, the opening track, and most of the other tracks have him staying in his higher range, which I assume is his comfort zone. The guitars have an indie vibe to them and the keyboards add some scope to the record. The only musical problem with this record is the corny synthesizer sound that occasionally shows up, as in “April Fools and Eggmen.” It sounds like it was taken from some really cheesy 80s record.
The record starts out with a bang with “Dance of The Manatees”, the band’s swan song. It has sort of a radio single feel, and features the only example of Sudderth’s guttural growling. (He sounds like he’s saying “Run DMC” over and over again.”) The band kicks off into “Kyla Cries Cologne“, another rock anthem, and then into the dark brooding “Vice/Versa”, which alternates from indie flavoured verses to modern rock choruses. “The Wife, the Kids, and the White Picket Fence” provides the major key song for the album, and then we have another rock anthem, “April Fools and Eggmen”. This segues into a sort of classical interlude, which is interrupted by the fierce opener of “A Seafarer’s Knot”, whose intro is the most metallic this record. The song’s tune almost has an Irish feel, kind of like “The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald”. After this, the album suffers from what almost every harder rock record suffers from-lag. The last half of almost all hard rock records I have listened to has felt boring and sluggish. The band throws in an Irish fiddle intro on “Tall Tales Taste Like Sour Grapes”, but by that time, I’ve fallen asleep. The energy can only go so far, and after about six or seven minor key songs with slower choruses (The fancy term for this is soaring choruses), I’ve lost interest. I guess I’m not cut out to be a metalhead. The final song, “(When The Bough Breaks) Say When”, is lighter than most of the songs, and also partially major-key.
Fair To Midland’s song writing is some of the weirdest in the world, and the song titles make no sense at all. I won’t even try to analyze any of them. Some lyric lines, like “They left us in the dark. They buried the sun, so I carried a torch”, make some sort of sense, but others are purely indecipherable like “let me introduce you to a pair that strikes crude oil, but I see pyrite”. Then again, what do you expect from a band of System of a Down’s singer’s label.
Fair to Midland does an interesting job of blending indie vocals with metal music, but their singer’s vocal strength and range is not displayed on most of the tracks. I also can’t help shake the idea that this is an unchristian version of Falling Up (Disclaimer: Falling Up was around before Fair to Midland.). Fans of Falling Up and people looking for intelligent hard rock might enjoy it, and it’s definitely worth a dollar. If you like none of the music, the album art is still pretty cool. And here's the band with the singer rocking the banjo and the overalls. He doesn't play the banjo on the record, though, which is sad.