Monday, December 17, 2007

Sometimes I wish I could thank them all...
For sharing their talents and giving us all their music...

Consumer note: Since this is a musical post, it ain't brief. Read it in shifts.

IN MY LIVING ROOM sits my record collection. Hundreds of pieces of plastic. All of those albums and singles each have something to share...some of those pieces of plastic pound my ears with hard rock, some provide sweet pop sentiments, some look at the world and comment on society's ills from the time period they represent, some entertain whimsically, and as cynical as I am about love, some of those pieces of plastic uplift my spirit, and give me a sense of hope. In any given record-listening session, I can veer from folk, to balladeering, to heavy funk, to country rock, to heavy metal, or's all music, after all. Yeah, there are things I don't like, and other things I haven't heard a whole lot of; as time goes on, I'm finding it's plain-old HARD to keep up on everybody. That's because, I spend time listening to my own favorite kinds of music, but as time marches onward, there are so many new artists popping up in every musical genre that I can't stay ahead of them all. But I try...when I'm out driving around, I tune my radio into an FM station which appears to play a good deal of newer music that's coming out. And, most of the stuff sounds okay, even to these old ears.

THERE ARE SOME ARTISTS, from back when I was growing up in the '60s and '70s, that I've never really had a chance to hear; case in point, how about Richie Havens? He's the black singer who led off "Woodstock" with a song called "Freedom" about being in the right place at the right time...and instantly, his name became known to millions of music fans. He had a chart hit, with a "live" version of George Harrison's "Here Comes The Sun" in 1970, and he recorded quite a few albums, three of which I've picked up at second-hand stores over the years and finally got around to hearing this weekend. Going to "Goodwill" and other such 2nd-hand stores is a good way to buy records I've been aware of in the past, but never got around to buying. I don't think I would've bought a Richie Havens album when he was a current artist; I was more a fan of the "groups" at the time. But, Richie's albums are tuneful, rhythmic, sometimes raw and driving, sometimes quietly melodic...what sets him apart is his "screech" of a voice which gives him a raw sort of "edgy" appeal; compelling stuff indeed. Think of him as a black psychedelic folkie; strange combination, but it really sets him apart.

A QUITE PROLIFIC MUSICIAN passed away over the weekend. His music is always creative, tightly arranged and polished...he's been all over the radio for the last 2 or 3 decades; he had a lot of pop hits, but his albums demonstrate his ability to effectively do pop, rock and roll, and sweet ballads, and on top of that, he wrote all of his own music. I saw him most recently on PBS, where he did an "Austin City Limits". Again, I' ve always been into rock and roll bands, so for a long time, most "solo" performers didn't register all that much with me. I first heard one of his records when I was working at a radio station in the '70s; I found an old "promo" copy, and gave it a spin, and I thot, "hey, this is pretty good..."

The artist? Dan Fogelberg. How many times was his pretty ballad, "Longer", sung at weddings? How many people felt the chill of a cold, gray, lonesome day when they heard "Same Auld Lang Syne", a song about connecting with an old flame after all those years, and then once again going "separate ways" many people, including me, rocked out to "The Language of Love"; that's right, there's Dan Fogleberg music that you can rock out to. A lot of music critics had very harsh words for him, but what do they know, right? To be as current as he was, for such a long time, and to be able to do many different musical styles such as he did, is talent, pure and simple. He was a multi-instrumentalist as well; layering many of the instruments played on his albums. Dan Fogelberg passed away yesterday (Sunday) due to prostate cancer. It's an old cliche, but the music does indeed "live on". I personally haven't played his records in years, but several of them are in my collection, and have been...for years. One of my favorite-ever records is the album he recorded with flautist Tim Weisberg, "Twin Sons of Different Mothers". On that record, he does an absolutely wonderful version of the old Hollies' song, "Tell Me To My Face". Talent indeed. I'm sad he's gone.

AN ARTIST WE ALMOST LOST not all that long ago is Neil Young, and I am a huge fan of his. Neil's quivering voice, his rudimentary yet highly effective guitar playing, and the vast range of material he records puts him way, way up there in my book. He was diagnosed with an aneurysm a few years back, and in-between diagnosis and surgery, he recorded the album "Prairie Wind"; I'd read that he wanted to get that album done just in case he didn't survive the operation. Well, he did and I'm glad. And, his new album, "Chrome Dreams II" just sounds better and better all the time. On that record, ballads and blistering rock tunes sit side by side; the range of material he does is staggering.

Over the weekend, I heard this 1992 album, "RAGGED GLORY " by Neil and his longtime backup group, Crazy Horse. No ballads here, that's for sure. Two of the songs are over 10 minutes long; several are over 5 minutes, and the whole thing rocks in glorious sloppiness as Neil literally squeezes the high notes out of his guitar and warbles forth. This album rocks with a vengeance. Great songs abound here, such as "Love And Only Love", "Days That Used To Be", "Love To Burn" and, a totally insane song that shouts, "Why do I Keep F*CKING UP???" Neil and company even do an old obscure '50s song, "Farmer John", and they literally blow the song to pieces, in all kinds of wrenching overmodulated heaviness and barely-in-key vocals. I am a big fan of Neil's ballads, too, but this is the stuff I absolutely love him for. You Go, Neil!!! I am always amazed by his ability to sing the most tender, lyrical songs, and then turn around and blister the ears with ragged, raw rock and roll.

I BOUGHT THE VINYL EDITION of this album back when it first came out. The only drawback of vinyl is that you can put just 'so much' music on each side before the LP begins to lose its frequency response. (Less space for the undulation of the grooves, you see.) "Ragged Glory" is a LONG album (over 60 minutes), and all of that was crammed onto ONE vinyl LP. As such, I'd have to turn up the volume way up, just to get decent sound output, and of course, when I did that, in addition to loud music, every imperfection in the vinyl also got amplified. Still, it's rock and roll. Well, recently, I just came into possession of a factory cassette tape of this album, and I dubbed it over to CD. Ah, no sound limitations (as long as I don't blow out my speakers, that is). Now I can hear this album as it was meant to be heard, loud, rude n' crude, in all its "Ragged Glory".

So, I'd like to thank the musicians for making the music that's helped me to enjoy the good times, and get through the bad times. Without music, I would have literally lost my mind. It's always been something very valuable--and therapeutic-- for me to turn to. You musicians out there have no idea how valuable you are to the rest of us. Thank you.


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