Like many people, I'm not all that fond of the business practices of the music industry and somewhere between 15 and 20 years ago I pretty much stopped buying new CDs. Lately, though, largely due advances in the technology and culture, I've started buying music again, though not much from the big companies through the normal channels. Instead places like the late lamented MP3.com helped me find new artists, and iTunes let me buy just the songs I wanted and not whole albums.
Thanks to my iPod, I've also been talking about music more lately. People see it and ask how I like it, or what I have on it and so on. This generally leads to me going on about one or another of the bands, and this lead to the notion that I ought to talk about it here, too. I mean, when did I ever resist the urge to step up on a soapbox? So, here we go...
But first a word about the little jewel case in the right corner here (assuming you're using a recent browser). You should be able to see the last song I listened to in iTunes on my either my laptop or my iMac. The album cover should appear in the jewel box in most cases. If the jewel box is empty, neither iTunes nor Amazon can find the artwork. This may happen because I'm listening to something from a small indie publisher or a free MP3 — like some of the ones listed below.
In any event the track, artist, album and genre should be listed. This is all brought to you courtesy of a little Yahoo Widget called iTunes Companion. It watches what I'm listening to and updates the little web page that's in an <iframe;> up there.
Found on the Net
Both as a consumer and lover of music and as the father of a musician, I rather hope that the technology will change the music business, and it seems to me that I'm seeing at least a bit of evidence that it is changing. The first few groups here illustrate what I mean.
I first noticed Andrew Bird at Lollapalooza 2006, which may not sound like it fits under "Found on the Net" until I explain that I didn't attend Lollapalooza, but rather watched it streaming on the net. And, while that was the first time I noticed Andrew, it was not the first time I heard him or owned his music. That was on Squirrel Nut Zippers album, a group that I first encountered on NPR. Still Andrew doesn't belong in that section, since I didn't take notice at the time of any of the individual members of the group.
Bird is a master of a number of arts: the violin, bowed, pluck and strummed, the guitar, piano, glockenspiel, singing and whistling, real time sampling and looping, song writing, and perhaps most surprising of all for someone who tours with just a drummer, improvisation. Tho see this last, compare the clip above to his performance of the same song at Bonnaroo, Live at The Mercy Lounge, and the studio version on The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Each performance has its own life, and given how dependent he is on loops and precise timing, it is clear that he plays to his audience.
Stylistically, he is an eclectic blend of indie pop, jazz, folk, blues and classical influences and is one of those artists who nearly defy categorization, a category of which I am inordinently fond. I recommend him highly.
I first encountered Stuart Mitchell on MP3.com, back when it was a source of freely exchanged music and so many new and young artists distribute their work there. One of the first categories I explored at MP3.com was Tolkieniana which led me to Film Music in general. There I found Stuart Mitchell, and downloaded his Seven Wonders Suite.
Seven Wonders has since been released, and is available in the UK at Amazon.co.uk, where it has received a 5 star rating and two rave reviews. It has also been reviewed by Dominy Clements at MusicWeb-International, who panned it resoundingly. Clements says of the piece that "the intellect is unchallenged here by innovation, dissonance or any noticeable harmonic astringency or individuality" and that it "is magnificently and appallingly anodyne". The two medically derived terms perhaps reveal as much about Clements as they do Mitchell or the work. Clements faults Seven wonders for its lack of sharpness, harshness or as one thesaurus puts it being "so sharp as to cause mental pain" and for its ability to sooth pain. Well, not everything good causes pain, and not everything that alleviates it is bad.
Clements and the rave reviewers at Amazon are both right, there is very little at all that is unpleasant about Seven Wonders, and if like Clements you find that a fault, you will probably not enjoy the work. He is also right when he finds that the work is somewhat derivative, or at least that it makes nods do a great number of composers. But look at the subject matter: the awesome wonders of the ancient world. To evoke something old and and classical you must make allusions to the old and classical. The work may not challenge us, but it can transport us, uplift us, and yes, even reduce a little pain. And that, in this day and age is not a bad thing.
In looking for cover art for iTunes Companion to display when I play Seven Wonders, I came across Stuart's pages on his father's web site, which also features "The Rosslyn Motet", a piece composed or "realized" by his father and produced and conducted by Stuart. The pages selling this album say of it:
Hidden away in strange carvings on the arches of Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh (immortalised in "The Da Vinci Code") is the cymatic notation of an ancient hymn, possibly coded by members of a cult of John the Baptist linked to the original (real) Knights Templar. Now de-coded, so forget the myths and fictions about the Holy Grail - this is the REAL Rosslyn secret.
I haven't yet heard the whole Rosslyn Motet, but the MP3 excerpts are enjoyable, even if the origin of the music is a little trendy and "new age".
Elizaveta aka Elly K
One of the first artists I encountered at MP3.com as I branched out from Tolkieniana and film music was "Elly K." who was born Elizaveta Igorevna Khripounova and now records as Elizaveta. Like so many artists on this page, Elizaveta, is a woman of eclectic tastes and multiple skills, having recorded pop, jazz, classical and various fusions of them all. Her latest album, Breakfast with Chopin puts her poetry to the music of Chopin and other classical composers. The first song of hers that attracted my attention was "Fairy Tales for Girls", a somewhat breathy pop song that I find oddly enthralling.
Elizaveta fully illustrates the trend towards artists who self promotion and self-publish. She has release several albums through the old MP3.com, CD Baby, GarageBand.com eMusic, MySpace
iTunes and just about every on-line venue imaginable. She released her CD Intangible in 2004 under the label "RussianChicksRule Records". I recommend checking out her site, and Breakfast with Chopin, which is available there or on
Another of my early MP3.com categories was Celtic music. It's a genre that I enjoy, or more accurately a loose tradition and family of genres, most of which I enjoy quite a bit. This may not be surprising as the Burrowses hail from Ireland as do the Sheridans and Magaries and a number of the other families in my family tree. My mother's Davison family, the Andersons on my father's side and a number of others are Scots. The Celtic rhythms are in my blood.
I'm not sure exactly how to categorize Aeone's music. It's a kind of new agey, Celtic ambient fusion that reflects her feminist neo-pagan mysticism. She draws on not only Celtic, but African and medieval traditions, but gives them a modern twist.
About the time I stumbled onto her she was featured on the soundtrack of TNT's Mists of Avalon mini-series, which is only appropriate, given the new agey Celtic feminist neo-pagan mysticism of the both the TV show, and Marion Zimmer Bradley's book, upon which it was based. It's good to see her succeeding.
One of the people that most exemplifies the new trend is Emilie Autumn. When she had a hard time selling her particular style of "fantasy rock" electronic violin to either the major or indie labels, Emilie created her own label "Traitor Records", where she records not only under her own name, but under other names and personas for different genres. She also markets her style, selling Faerie wings and wands, both logo and couture apparel, scents, and logo merchandise both under her own name and as both Traitor Records and her design house "WillowTech House".
The gal has a big ego and can write glowingly about herself in the third person, but she's talented, creative, pretty, ambitious and multi-talented and there really are only two ways to make a successful career as a musician: become a superstar or build a multi-facetted career. (See my cousin Jimmy's entry below.)
So, what about her music? It's fun, and full of influences — jazz, classical, rock, medieval — lively electric violin. She calls it "fantasy rock". When she records as "The Jane Brooks Project", she does a smoky sort of jazz with slightly modern edge. More recently she has become a member of Courtney Love's band The Chelsea (you can hear her on "Never Gonna Be The Same."). No matter who she is, she's clearly having fun. Going along for the ride is entertaining. Supporting a truly independent artist is a good thing, to boot.
The Brobdingnagian Bards, Marc Gunn and Andrew Mckee, first caught my eye on MP3.com with their name — the Brobdingnagians being so much less famous than the neighboring Liliputians. They kept me with their music, however. From classics like "Greensleeves", "Scarborough Faire" and "Whiskey in the Jar" to the fannish comedy of "Do Virgins Taste Better" and "Angel's Lament (Buffy Vampire parody)", they are a delight.
The Bards sing and play the autoharp, recorder, and mandolin, with a style that has got to be a smash at Ren-Faires and Science Fiction conventions. Their web page now brags "Over Five Million Celtic Music MP3s Served!" and their CDs are sold both on their own page and at Amazon.com. Their latest album at this point is "Memories of Middle Earth" a follow-on to the million download hit single "Tolkien (The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings", which was one of the songs that drew me to them (along with that age-old dragon question "Do Virgins Taste Better?").
I'm only cheating a little by putting Janis Ian here under the "Found on the Net" heading. I first started listening to Janis back when her album "Society's Child" first came out, and have seen her perform live. But between the record buying drought of early married life and turn-over produced by replacing vinyl and tape with CDs, she pretty well fell out of my music library for a couple of decades. Then one day I read her article "The Internet Debacle – An Alternative View" when it appeared as "Prime Palaver #11" at The Baen Free Library. (It can also be found in the articles section of www.JanisIan.com.) The article not only made a number of important points about the music industry and reinforced the points Eric Flint had been making at the Free Library, but reminded me how much I like her work, and miss having it in my library.
Janis became famous for her precocious socially-conscious folk music at the age of 14 or 15. At times her down-beat lyrics annoyed me—I tend to be a much more upbeat person, sometimes obsessively and defensively so. Like the character's of her songs I was an outsider as a kid, picked on to the point of broken bones, and my own coping mechanism was to never surrender, never give up, and the resignation of the final verse of Society's Child:
"One of these days I'm gonna stop my listening,is just foreign and almost threatening to me. Still it is beautiful and perceptive song writing, and Janis was or is one of the more influential song writers of our generation. She influenced a lot of us. And I'm glad to have found her again, both for the old well-loved material and for the joy of discovering her newer work (which is often more upbeat).
Gonna raise my head up high.
One of these days I'm gonna raise up
My glistening wings and fly.
But that day will have to wait for a while.
Baby, I'm only society's child.
When we're older, things may change,
But for now this is the way they must remain."
Besides Celtic, another genre that I enjoyed poking around at MP3.com was "Film Music", and with the coming of Peter Jackson's film of The Lord of the Rings, a popular subject for amateur film music was the work of JRR Tolkien (See, for instance, the Brobdingnagian Bards, above). One of the finest examples of that sub-genre is the work of the delightfully named and sadly defunct Metrognome Studios.
The Metrognome Studios were the matched home recording studios of a talented pair of Brits, Kevin Pearce and James Prior. The earliest versions of their work are a bit more rock, but the refined film score-like versions, as heard on the CD that they still sell on their Web page, is really beautiful, full of rich atmospherics. It's clear that they had a lot of fun and put a lot of work into the album. Their web page is quite enjoyable as well. My one regret is that there won't (at least at present) be a follow-on album. Don't let that stop you, though.
Another way I've been learning about cool music the last few years is listening to NPR. I hear a band covered in a news story or interviewed on one of the talk show, and check out the MP3s they have available. Sometimes the artist turns into the next bing thing, but many times they are real unexpected gems.
Junoon doesn't quite fit in with the other "small" or "unknown" groups listed here. Junoon was, the last time I checked, the biggest band on the Indian sub-continent and is even moderately well known even here in the US, at least in some circles.
Shortly after 9/11, NPR ran a story on All Things Considered about the Pakistani Sufi-Rock band, "Junoon", who had just played The General Assembly for U.N. day. I was taken by whole idea of Sufi-Rock, and of course the clash between Islamic and American cultures was very much on everybody's mind and what Salman Ahmad, the lead guitarist had to say really made sense to me.
A year later, The Connection on WBUR (my local NPR station) ran a show that featured them. As it turned out, Junoon played at U. Mass, Amherst the next week, so Selma, and I went to it along with our son, Ian and his girlfriend who was a student there. It was a fantastic concert, though I was about twice the age of the rest of the folks in the room. There was a tremendous positive energy, and everyone was dancing.
Their music mixes a rock sound that is clearly influenced by U2, Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix with Asian drum work and 15th century Sufi lyrics in Urdu. It's powerful and driving, even if you don't understand the words — heck, who ever understands any rock lyrics?
I first heard about Bering Strait on Morning Connection about a year and a half ago when they were nominated for a Country Grammy. They are often described as a Russian Bluegrass group. Technically, though, while they use bluegrass techniques on some songs and are quite talented at it, their album is more of a country, rock, pop, bluegrass, Russian folk fusion sound. Morning edition got it pretty much right, though, usually describing their music as "Country".
I'm not a big Country fan, but Bering Strait is hot. My favorite cut on their album is
Porushka-Paranya, a Russian folk song that they give a bluegrass treatment. It's become the song they generally end their live performances and it pretty well leaves the audience on their feet by all reports.
I'm pretty sure that I first heard about Bond on NPR, though I don't recall the show distinctly. Being four exceptionally good looking women who try to bring fashion model or pop star style to their string quartet (to say nothing of having given it a pop group style name), Bond gets a lot of publicity. I'm afraid that that may have worked against them in my case. I like a pretty girl as much as the next fellow, but my memory is that the original coverage I heard concentrated enough on their looks that I wasn't inspired to rush out and find their music.
The iTunes Music Store remedied that. Several months ago one of their albums was feature on the ITMS home page and recalling that I'd heard of them, I gave a couple of their tracks a 30 second listen and decided that they were interesting musically as well as visually. Their music is a fun and often powerful cross between classical and pop music. They are a string quartet with a dance beat.
Naturally, one of the tracks on their album "Shine" is "Bond On Bond" — their interpretation of the classic 007 theme. Somehow it matches my mental image of the theme better than the actual John Barry track. I haven't enjoyed a Bond interpretation as much since the classic "Basie Meets Bond".
Their latest album is the first to add vocals.
The final way that I've found interesting music in the last couple of years has been that it's been made by people I'm related to. So far, my son Ian hasn't managed to keep a group together long enough to put together an album—but he's getting close. On the other hand, I have these cousins...
My cousin, Jimmy Eppard, is one of those nearly mythical creatures, a musician who manages to make a living in the business without being a superstar. He lives and works in Woodstock, New York, and has been a member of more than a dozen bands over the years. (Note that the band that Artist Direct cites as "Professor Louie" is more properly "The Crowmatix" or "Professor Louie and the Crowmatix".) Jimmy plays blues, rock, country, R&B, and all of the various blends that the Woodstock area is known for. He plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar, lap steel guitar, slide guitar, mandolin, bass and most things with strings.
Jimmy succeeds in the music business because he is not only a talented and versatile musician, but something of a musical factotum, being a sound and recording engineer, a guitar technician, singer, producer and arranger and built a recording studio. (If you can't tell, I've been fond of Jimmy since we were very young and am quite proud of his success at living his dream.)
I've featured two of my favorite of Jimmy's albums. Anyone who knows me should realize that I couldn't possibly ignore the fact that he is a founding member of a band called "The Curmudgeons". "Mecca" by The Memphis Pilgrims was my second choice in part be cause I know he is fond of it as well. The most famous band he has recorded with is "The Band" on their more recent albums.
Joey Eppard and "3"
I can't claim to be up on the subtleties of the more recent sub-genres, but 3 is an alternative rock band who played at both Woodstock '94 and Woodstock '99. Reviewers have called them "heart-driven", deep, beautiful, brooding, powerful and surreal. Or maybe they are a pop band who"owe far more to Motown and 1980's pop than to anything going today". Possibly they are a punk/emo band with a "heavy metal Steely Dan" sound.
Jimmy's hard to classify at times, too, so Joey comes by it honestly. The one thing that I can say is that Joey plays three roles in 3: song writer, vocalist and guitarist, and does them all proud. The band is lively, original, and improvisational — qualities that mark the finest musicians of the 20th century.
Joey also released an acoustic album of his own that I really like. A couple of the songs are versions of songs that appear on 3's albums, and others original for "Been to the Future". I find his style and tunes haunting. One, "The Game", is also darkly humorous, especially for a solo album.
You can find Joey and 3 at Planet Noise Records
or Amazon.com (3—Summercamp Nightmare, 3—Paint By Number, Joey—Been to the Future)
and at the iTunes store (3—Summercamp Nightmare, Joey—Been to the Future)
Coheed & Cambria
Joey isn't the only Eppard who has played with 3. His brother Josh used to be 3's drummer. Today, though, he plays with the up and coming band "Coheed and Cambria". The band takes its name from a Science Fiction saga that is being variously told in the lyrics of their first few albums (two of which are out at present) and a comic book.
The story told in their music is a bit dark for my tastes, but in that they are completely in keeping with their generation. I find an awful lot of contemporary rock, alternative, emo, punk or what all, to be a good deal too dark. What do you expect, I'm an aging hippy. What I can't deny is that these guys rock. The music is vital and energetic. I like them, perhaps even more than 3, if not quite as much as Joey's solo album.
All-in-all, my cousins the Eppards are one talented crew, and family ties aside, I recommend it all, 3, Joey, Coheed and Cambria, The Memphis Pilgrims, The Band, The Crowmatix, The Curmudgeons and all. Well worth the listen.
Sidpa Bardo (which takes its name from the final state before rebirth in the Tibetan Book of the Dead) is my son Ian's band. They're a little hard to classify. Most people seem to throw around phrases like "progressive" and "psychedelic". The band—a guitar or two, a base, drums and a singer—lacks the synthesizer of the classic psychedelic and progressive rock of my youth, but Ian tends to fill that role with a collection of effects peddles and a modeling amp. Their music is improvisational, with instrumental solos, electronic effects, and drums with a tribal edge. Their vocals at times are dreamy ala the earlier psychedelic and progressive bands and at others slide more to the shouting style of more recent alternative, metal and rock.
Wherever they fit, they are somewhere in the psychedelic, progressive, alternative rock movement, and are definitely beginning to find their musical voice. In the last couple of months they've cut a demo CD, become regulars at Jarrod's Live Rock Venue in Attleboro, won the first round at a battle of the bands at the Middle East in Central Square, a place that evolved out of a favorite restaurant of ours 30 years ago when we lived a block or two away, and came in third in the second round at the Paradise, which is a block from where Selma and I lived 35 years ago.