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2016-02-02 00.37.24

These are basically four note chords. Open strings to be played are indicated.

Okay, I feel like bragging. I’m gonna just put it out there. This is something I’m proud of. Whether I’m wrong or right – life is too short to not want to make a few mistakes now and then; too short to not want to have the dialogue. So here goes…

***

I’ve been brushing up on my mandolin and guitar a little bit, recently.

For many years I played the guitar as a ‘lead’ instrument – meaning, for me, that I’d play mostly single note melodies, patterns and riffs.

When I realized what huge dimensions of the instrument I’d been missing – as accompaniment; or even as a more rhythmic, chordal or harmonic instrument – I was crushed. Crushed, I tell you! I pretty much put it down for some more years.

And, you know… it seems like any simpleton that ever actually tried to go out and interact with other players would’ve long since realized their limitations. It shouldn’t have been such a shock…

When I saw how beautifully some piano playing friends of mine accompanied singers, it really opened my eyes…

I was more of a loner; trying to do it all on my own. I was kind of ashamed when I realized how much of a loner I actually was!….

I don’t know. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
The way we shame ourselves

***

For me, then, trying to learn the mandolin – after years of that kind of guitar playing – was counter-intuitive. It seemed like a completely different instrument.

Be that as it may – or not.

Eventually, having a nice mandolin around; learning to appreciate it’s portability; listening to other mandolinists; trying to dig what their ‘thing’ is; and, well, just trying to grok the instrument – gave me a slightly more engaged perspective.

My guitar playing has also since been evolving into a more harmonic, chordal and rhythmic style.

So recently… having both mandolin and guitar close at hand – I found that learning things on the mandolin, just plinking around – opened up the guitar for me in a nice way, too. When you have to re-learn where to put your fingers on the new instrument, it brings a different focus on the first instrument, too.

That’s really all I want to say about the mandolin! Don’t let me confuse you! I’m really talking here about the kind of things that inspire me! The muse

***

I have my guitar sitting out in my room. That’s supposed to be important; having your instrument close at hand for when the spirit hits you.

This morning I glanced over at it and visualized or heard a three chord progression. I picked up the guitar and tried to play something resembling what I had imagined. And – voilà – there you have it. (Although it demanded the fourth chord for resolution.) I’m not sure if this is exactly what I heard… But the fact that I could come up with something from out of the blue was very satisfying.

Don’t ask me what these chords are. I just think they sound nice together.

mandolin

Mandolin signed by Tom Rozum (top); David Grisman (Dawg, center); and Chris Hillman (bottom). Three of my inspirations, for sure!!

Mandolin signed by Tom Rozum (top); David Grisman (“Dawg”, center); and Chris Hillman (bottom). Three of my inspirations, for sure!! At Wintergrass, Tacoma, Washington, February 2001

One of my favorite David Grisman albums is Mondo Mando. It’s really atmospheric. It reminds me of a fall day – nice traveling music! Check it out.

Tom Rozum’s work with Laurie Lewis – The Oak and the Laurel and others – as well as his solo Jubilee – is very emotive.

D’oh!! [slaps forehead] And, oh! Ry Cooder’s mandolin playing is not to be missed!

Steve Earle! Don’t forget Steve Earle!!

Here’s something else I found inspiring – it’s a Josh Homme tutorial on YouTube featuring the man himself. I found the section from 2:27 minutes to 3:05 – about his use of octaves – to be especially interesting. There’s also some humorous comments – with a lot of humility, too – talking about guitar players’ ‘styles’ from 8:25 to 9:05

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I think Dave Edmunds is one of the great under appreciated talents of roots rock ‘n roll. How would I describe his music?

I like upbeat, up tempo rock music – a lot. I like virtuosity on the guitar; clever songwriting; expressive singing; and good interpretation and arrangement of others’ work, where it eclipses the originals or adds something ineffable.

I saw him play at a nice small auditorium during one of Seattle Center’s Bumbershoot festivals, some years back, playing solo with just an acoustic guitar. What a talent!

I put together a playlist on Spotify called Edmunds, Lowe and Rockpile. Some of my favorite, stand-out tracks from the playlist are: Standing At The Crossroads; Born Fighter; Home In My Hand; Halfway Down; It Doesn’t Really Matter; I Love Music; Girls Talk; Almost Saturday Night; Three Times Loser; When I write the Book; and You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine.

Nick Lowe is a great talent, too. I love his voice; he’s a fantastic singer! He brings a great sardonic sense of humor to his singing and lyrics.

Rockpile and some of Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe’s ‘solo’ work are all basically the same band. Nick Lowe played bass and sang. Edmunds sang, as did guitarist Billy Bremer. Terry Williams played drums. Wow! What a band! They put out an impressive collection of work.

I like trying to guess whether it is Lowe or Edmunds singing on some tracks. Their voices are sometimes similar; and sometimes have their own interesting nuances. This is particularly evidenced on their note-perfect interpretations of Everly Brothers tunes. It’s obvious to me that they influenced and complimented each other tremendously, as musicians.

The Blasters – including the brothers Phil and Dave Alvin – and the solo work of Dave Alvin – also rate high on my current play list. I also made a playlist for them on Spotify: The Blasters and Dave Alvin.

Dave Alvin is one of the primo, number one, undisputed great writers of Americana music. And he’s always a threat on guitar! He’s collaborated as Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women with two of my favorite female singers – Christy McWilson of The Picketts (check out their 1993 album, Paper Doll) and Laurie Lewis (Another fine songwriter! Check out her albums Earth and Sky: Songs of Laurie Lewis and True Stories.)

Phil Alvin – what can I say?! He’s one of the classic vocalists of the Americana genre. His voice conveys excitement and joy. It’s a little similar to Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Malford Milligan of Storyville. Very expressive and soulful. One of my current faves.

Finally, a word about John Doe. I saw him do a free short set at Easy Street Records in Seattle, around the time of his solo album Keeper, in October 2011. Wow. As a fan of the band X‘s album Under The Big Black Sun since the early ’80’s, the great dissonant blend of his and Exene’s voice – and the great instrumentation – was a part of my DNA.

He had another female singer with him. It was all acoustic, I think. But wow. That voice! His presence! It made me think I’d died and gone to heaven; moved me to tears; and made the hair stand up on the back of my neck – all at once! I was working hard and didn’t have the energy to go see him at The Tractor Tavern later that night. But I just want to testify! – if you ever get a chance to see him solo – do yourself a favor – Go!!

Check out my playlists at Spotify –   Search for:  Amy8Trak and then click on fair_choice for additional ones.

Sunrise Over Sea

John Butler is almost unbearably hip. That’s a pretty big compliment. His lyrics are smart, tough and principled.

He’s a great guitarist. Given the number of great guitarists in the world, that doesn’t hold very much weight. But it’s rare that I come across a set of music like this that really gets me excited. This is music that makes you want to get up and do something. You can’t pigeon-hole it. You’d have to listen to it and define it for yourself. I’d love to hear what other people’s thoughts are.

One of the few comparisons I make is a couple of spots where his slide playing is reminiscent of Sonny Landreth’s; another big compliment. He’s using it as a flavor. Again: hip. A lotta, lot of flavors and textures here. According to Wikipedia he plays mostly amplified and processed acoustic guitars. …Wow! Cool.

He’s a good singer, too. He sometimes sings like a rapper and/or raps like a singer, fast and rhythmical. The words aren’t always legible, but I’m not sure lyrics have to necessarily be completely heard and understood. There’s kind of an old joke about singers intentionally slurring the words. Back in the day, people would wear vinyl records down, trying to decipher them. It’s the feeling. When read separately, the words can lose their punch. It doesn’t mean they’re bad lyrics – they’re lyrical. It’s music. Anyway, the point is that it all adds up here to be very punchy singing, indeed. It expresses what it’s trying to express.

And, hey. The CD insert has a handwritten libretto, with drawings even.

It’s hip. Very hip. It’s Cool. It swings. That’s a style you don’t hear very much. You hear it a lot in jazz singers. You’ve gotta get it right. If it’s insincere, it’s transparently about style, not an individualistic expression. Some good ones that come to mind are Mose Allison, Gil Scott-Heron and Eddie Jefferson. Or think Billie Holiday. Timeless, right? Anyway, I dig hip.

On this set, the John Butler Trio swing like a mother. The bass, drums and guitar play in unbelievably tight counterpoint that is ultra-syncopated.

If you haven’t heard this set, check it out.