Incredible, historic music archive now digital (Alan Lomax)

I don’t know very much about Alan Lomax, but I know that his name is synonymous with “music history” and usually blues, cultural folk, country and Americana. So when I read today that his entire archive has now been made digital at CulturalEquity.org I had to take a peek. What I found was a search engine that wants for user-friendliness, but does contain some incredible gems nonetheless.

It’s not lost on me that this release comes on the 25th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. I assume this is a coincidence, but equally assume that nothing is ever a perfect co-incidence. There’s usually a connection somewhere in the ether.

So I found my copy of the Journals of Kurt Cobain that’s been kicking around my various writing and creation spots. The volume usually finds itself useful as a sturdy, large surface on which to write, as I recline in bed or on the couch. But now I’m sorting through the Lomax archive, listening to 1947  “Negro Prison Songs” from the Mississippi State Penitentiary recordings, and trying to connect the dots from Mississippi in the 1940s through Seattle in the 1990s to where I am today. What started as chain-gang prison songs in the Dixiecrat South somehow made it to Cobain’s lilly-white Aberdeen, WA. And then his piercing voice somehow made it to this Texan evangelical small-town boy, who grew up only a day’s drive from the Deep South, and now lives only a half-day’s drive from Aberdeen. I don’t understand it, but I’m better for it. Music is the glue.

I also learned today that the Band of Heathens is going to be playing a free show, in my hometown, right around the time that I’ll be visiting my parents and sisters this summer. And I also remembered that I have a Pete Seeger: The Power of Song documentary from the library that I haven’t watched yet. So it’s been a pretty darn good music day overall, and it’s about to get better.

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Women are Awesome — The Recording Industry is Not

Recently I heard this story about a new study concerning women in the recording industry. It made me think a lot.

Some facts that surprised me:

  • In today’s music industry….
    • 21% of performing artists are women.

    • 12% of songwriters are women

    • 3% of recording engineers are women

    • 2% of record producers are women

Some questions I had after hearing these stats were:

How could this be true?

Of music fans, are only 21% of them women?

No.

Of citizens in America, are only 21% of them women?

No.

What accounts for the difference?

Some new questions emerged.

  • Are men are more likely than women to seek external validation for their creative efforts?
    • Maybe.
  • Are men biologically more likely than women to survive the hyper-competitive music industry?
    • Maybe, but arguably men have perpetuated that competitive dynamic, so the comparison is questionable.
  • Are men inherently more artistically talented than women?
    • No.
  • Have my listening habits been conditioned to favor men over women?
    • Maybe.

Is this a problem?

I think so.

What important perspectives and experiences am I missing out on?

What unconscious values or biases do I hold, based on the music I listen to and that is marketed?

Am I contributing to the problem?

Yes, without meaning to. A quick review of my ticket stubs from the last year contains at least 10 live concerts, but shows no women with top billing on any of them. In 2018 I did see and greatly enjoy several female acts (Laura Jane Grace, Lucinda Williams, Saeeda Wright), but none of them were necessarily the reason I bought the ticket, and none of the headliners I paid to see in 2018 were women. I think I have a role in this gender gap.

What could I do to help?

  1. Write and think reflectively.
  2. Seek feedback from others.
  3. Consider paying to see more women artists live.
  4. Consider paying full price for their recorded music.
  5. Share with others about fantastic women artists that have affected me.

What do you think? Is there a problem?

What women should I be listening to?

 

The Magic of Mississippi Delta Blues (h/t Sparkle Stories “FIFTY”)

My wife and I subscribe to a wonderful storytelling podcast for our kids (ages 7 and 4), called Sparkle Stories. Imagine the best moments of Mr Rogers and Reading Rainbow, with a special emphasis on empathy, kindness and ecology at a kid-friendly level – that’s Sparkle Stories.  We love it.

The creators have invented many worlds- my kids’ favorites are a Junkyard Tales with animal characters who live at the city dump, and the adventures of Martin and Sylvia, who are both about my kids’ age, live in the country in a big house with lots of windows, and explore their environment in fun and novel ways.

So Sparkle Stories is great across the board, but recently they have released “FIFTY – The Stars, The States, The Stories.” And it is extremely awesome. I have thoroughly enjoyed each vignette of a historical moment or person from each state. Often the characters are nicknamed until the very end, for the benefit of a big “aha” moment (for the parents especially) where the famous historical figure is revealed.

Such was the case for the Mississippi story. For the purposes of what I write after this current paragraph, I will say this – I am a fan of music and I consume all the corresponding literature. For the last 15+ years I have devoured books, zines, biographies, blogs, reviews, articles, DVDs, lectures, liner notes, podcasts, and on and on about pretty much all genres, time periods and styles in the American music journey.

So when I say that this story is hands-down the best dramatization of a delta blues origin story I have ever across, I mean it. The story is called “Boll Weevil and the Blues.” Just the story alone is worth the $15 per month subscription, but you can also get a 10-day free trial here.

If hearing this story doesn’t turn you on to the blues, I’m not sure what will. Come for the story and stay for the joy it brings

Foxholes: Dark, Driving and Dangerous

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Every great punk or hard rock song has to begin with that heavy, epic riff. It’s fundamental to the song’s identity and has to get the crowd energized from moment one. Classic riffs like “Search and Destroy” or “Blitzkrieg Bop” and more modern gems like “The House That Heaven Built” or “Icky Thump” do this really well – with searing, scorching guitar and a pulsing back beat that hit that dopamine trigger that music lovers crave. Especially if you’re a newer indie band trying to establish credibility, you’ve got to have something other than skinny jeans and weird hair to make the crowd turn their attention from their phone to the stage.

Des Moines’ garage band Foxholes’ latest single “Sunny” gets pretty close to That Epic Riff. (Soundcloud link here). What they bring in “Sunny” is a crunchy punch from the beginning that moves into a brooding 70s-era rocker – hearkening back to when indie rock and punk were truly underground and everything was being redefined. Foxholes matches the energy of their forefathers and has that inspired DIY feel. “Sunny” itself doesn’t have a catchy chorus or any definable structure outside of the double-beat hard riff, but listen well: many great records that went on to eventually sell millions were initially passed over by big labels because the suits in the room “didn’t hear a single.”

So, the creative energy is strong with Foxholes. Listen if you like the Strokes, the Hives, Japandroids, the White Stripes, or gritty old-school NYC proto-punk. Their self-titled sophomore album comes out on May 26th.

http://foxholesmusic.com/

foxholes1

Copperfox’s Electric Mellow Indie

a0355279889_5This band was recommended to me as similar to Dum Dum Girls and Timber Timbre. I agree with both characterizations and would love to see them share the stage with either one. Maybe even The War on Drugs. Copperfox’s drums and guitar are sparse and elegant, overlaid with lilting alto vocals like a more pensive Liz Phair, which I like.

Copperfox started in Portland, OR but recently relocated to Nashville – I think you can hear both influences – the urban indie vibe and the gentle country crooning.

Here’s one of their older songs I especially like –  “My Heart” from the Roads Traveled EP. (2014) Their current single “Feel in the Void” from their Haunts  EP is also below.

 

My Heart

Feel in the Void

The Sad, Brilliant Legacy of Scott Weiland

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For as long as I’ve known that the lead singer of the band Stone Temple Pilots is someone named Scott Weiland, I’ve known that that name would be pretty much always mentioned in context of cocaine and heroin. There was no Velvet Revolver without STP, there was no STP without Scott Weiland, and there was no Scott Weiland without drugs. It’s just something you knew if you were aware of music and pop culture as a teenager in the 90s. Bill Clinton lied about Monica Lewinsky, OJ got away with murder, and Scott Weiland has a drug problem.

So it almost goes without saying that news of his death at what appears to be a cocaine overdose was not exactly a surprise. And in some ways, it’s the only way his story could have ended. It turns out that he just wasn’t capable of doing the Clapton thing, getting clean, finding god, opening a rehab facility in the tropics and inspiring thousands of people to get clean as well. I wish he could have found that peace, but he didn’t, and I accept that. I’m sad he’s gone, that I never got to see that fleeting reunion tour he was always talking about, but without him there are two memories I hold very dear that would have never happened. So, drugs or not, I have to pay homage to that.

My senior year of high school, some friends of mine from the marching band and drum line pulled together a version of “Interstate Love Song” for the end of year talent show.  They knocked it out of the park, and we left the show to a warm, Texas sunset that just continued the feeling of satisfaction – could life get any better? Right then, it couldn’t.

Then, during college, one semester in particular I was playing poker regularly and making a quick $5 or $10 a weekend. I remember going to the local Hastings used music section to spend my winnings, and they always had way too many copies of No. 4, Shangri-La-Di-Das and Core – never Purple. Until one glorious day – the clouds parted and Hastings had just one used copy of Purple hidden behind a bunch of other stuff. It was like finding a friend I’d been looking for for years. The case was pretty badly cracked, and the insert was wrinkled but I didn’t care. That was $6.99 I was definitely going to spend. To this day it is still the only STP album I actually own, and I still love it. “Vasoline” “Interstate Love Song” and “Big Empty” still top the list of their best songs for me, with “Love Song” at the absolute top for Weiland’s inflection, soulfulness, and one of the smoothest leading guitar licks in all of rock music.

I of course have no idea what Scott Weiland’s epitaph will be, and I have no idea what his true intentions were in writing “Interstate Love Song.” But I think to think that it’s him writing to his addiction, personified.  If so, the full lyrics allow him to make his own very poignant tribute. Read below. I think you’ll see what I mean.

Waiting on a Sunday afternoon
For what I read between the lines
Your lies
Feelin’ like a hand in rusted chains
So do you laugh at those who cry?
Reply?
Leavin’ on a southern train
Only yesterday you lied
Promises of what I seemed to be
Only watched the time go by
All of these things you said to me
Breathing is the hardest thing to do.
With all I’ve said and
all that’s dead for you
You lied-Goodbye.
Leavin’ on a southern train
Only yesterday you lied
Promises of what I seemed to be
Only watched the time go by
All of these things I said to you

RIP Scott. Thanks for the memories.

 

The Song I Can’t Stop Listening To – Odessa – “Gather Round”

This dry heat. That hot wind. The expansive sky. A remote outpost half way between Ft Worth and El Paso.

This is where I live now – Midland, TX, 15 miles on Highway 191 from Odessa, TX. And that heat, this wind, that sky – is what I experience every day. And this physical surrounding is what Odessa, the artist, sounds like. She’s dry and sparse, but soothing and sweet at the same time.

I discovered Odessa’s music just after I got here, and the slow-strummed acoustic, the Spaghetti Western steel, and her lilting alto voice create this incredible soundscape that really mimics the land that surrounds me.

She is still emerging and establishing herself, so please give her your support. Enjoy the song.