Musical Musings

With our non-traditional vegan Thanksgiving dinner on the table, we went with some traditional, seasonal tunes for musical accompaniment: Santana’s Abraxas.

What, you don’t do the holidays with kick-ass Latin-tinged jams?

Still rocks

Still rocks

Later in the weekend, I threw on John Barleycorn Must Die. (Yes, I guess I am steeping myself in nostalgia since the Crisis has taken hold.) And the budding cantankerous old man in me thought, “Man, rock musicians just don’t play like they used to.” I mean play their instruments like they really know what they’re doing, solo with nods to the blues and jazz masters before them. By and large. the level of musicianship in today’s rock – at least the part of it that reaches a wide audience –  kinda sucks.

Such nice boys...

Such nice boys...

Whoa, I can hear the boos and hisses already. All right, gross overgeneralization. But it’s not like I’m stuck in the past, only playing music recorded before I graduated high school (1978). My collection has Radiohead, Gorillaz, Wilco, Beck, and many others from the last ten years or so that have genuine talent. But can they stretch out with a solo that makes you go “Wow”? Not too often.

Now, I’m sure there are some jam-band aficionados who would argue for the talents of their particular favorites, and that’s cool. But that genre, on the whole, just doesn’t do much for me. Even the originals, the Dead, who I saw plenty of times live, had some really boring moments on vinyl and in concert (but that time we tripped at Colt Park, now that was fun…). But I’ll gladly take suggestions on some jam bands you young whippersnappers think I should check out. And don’t say Phish; I have never heard anything by them or similar acts that’s impressed me (and yes, I realize they are not new or extant today).

Go "Searching for Madge"

Go "Searching for Madge"

As I thought about this musicianship-of-the-past thing, different bands I used to listen to popped into my head: Soft Machine, Colosseum, King Crimson, early Fleetwood Mac (check out the soloing on Then Play On; still blows me away), certain Steely Dan solos (another killer: the guitar work at the end of “King of the World”), Television . Then you have the more usual suspects, like the ones mentioned above, the Allman Brothers, and of course, Zappa. And I know there were tons of other prog-rock groups from that era that I never heard or knew only tangentially (and I’m not even counting the jazz musicians who got into fusion, which I see as a whole ‘nother beast). Just as I’m sure I’m missing out on some unheralded talents today. But with the fragmentation of the music biz and the lessening of the importance of radio, I’ll probably never hear them.

Maybe that’s one key difference between now and then. You heard Hendrix on the radio, even if it wasn’t “Pali Gap.” You heard Santana and others with true musical ability, not just bands that could write catchy songs (or sample someone else’s riff).  I’ve read that our musical tastes are pretty much set by the time we hit our 20’s which explains the popularity of classic rock (and I’m sure the classic hip-hop channels are not far away; maybe they’re already there on Sirius?). The number of people who remain truly open to new music is small. I have pretty eclectic tastes, and I try to check out new things. But there’s no denying the comfort of hearing music I know so well from my youth. And that still impresses with true talent.

Now, where did I put my copy of “Sugar Sugar”?


~ by mburgan on November 29, 2008.

4 Responses to “Musical Musings”

  1. Glad to see you give your nod to Gorillaz and Radiohead. I’m afraid I can’t point you in the direction of any recent artists who produce amazing instrumental solos, mostly because I don’t appear to place as much value on them as you do… I’m more interested in lyrics and what’s going on vocally, probably because the only instrument I know how to play is the voice. You say your tastes are eclectic; do you listen to electronic music at all? What I’ve been getting into lately are bands that combine electronic music and vocals. Ever heard The Postal Service? Or Imogen Heap?

  2. Not sure how you define electronic, but I love older stuff like Eno and his work with Cluster. Don’t know Postal Service; have heard of Imogen Heap. Will give them a listen. Thanks.

    As far as lyrics–I’m not just a flashy guitar solo/instrumentalist guy. I grew up on Dylan, love Elvis Costello (one of my heroes) and XTC, among other lyrically inspiring artists. I mean, I love Gershwin and Porter too. Guess I was just struck by the notion that in the old days, it was easy to hear people who knew their chops, and that seems to be less of a concern today. Ooh, Richard Thompson, just thought of him; great guitarist and great songwriter.

  3. well we know matt loves Disco Biscuits, I believe EGG is a jam band.

  4. Elvis Costello FOREVER!!!!!

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