May 13, 2009
HOLY MUSICIAN, BATMAN…
Eric Drew Feldman is one of those guys we liner-note hounds hold to the highest esteem. He is not a household name, even though he’s played on/produced a wide variety of music over the past 30 years – much of it moderately successful, and much of it extraordinarily influential. His keen ear has drawn him to some of the most unhinged and talented performers of each era in his career.
Feldman got his start in a later incarnation of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, with his playing most prominently featured on Doc at the Radar Station, where he logged time with Jeff Morris Tepper and Gary Lucas, two of the finest guitarists of their generation. Alternating between bass guitar and keyboards, Feldman’s presence is felt in the album’s clean tones, coupled with exotic playing – something he would take with him after leaving the Magic Band.
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May 10, 2009
“You’re So Vain”
1972 | Electra
In honor of Mother’s Day, and as a gift for my mom (since I’m poor), I wanted to feature the work of someone she loves. I wanted to find a record that, when I heard it, instantly brought Mom to mind. But, of course, it also had to be something decidedly “un-rock” – that is, something without a driving back beat, a distorted electric guitar, or anything resembling grit. So I decided to cover a song that is as limp-dick as you can get, and, yet, is a song that I totally love despite itself (and despite it reminding me of my mom’s less than progressive tastes in music).
Say hello to me covering Carly Simon. I never thought this day would come.
“You’re So Vain” is clearly the most well-known song by the former Mrs. James Taylor (more mom-related trivia: my mom was at their show at Carnegie Hall the night they got married), as well as one of the 70s-pop radio staples that you can still hear 10 times a day if you select your radio stations carefully enough. Its ubiquity, and its mind-numbingly catchy chorus, make it a song that has not found its indie-rock “so lame its cool” half-ironic street cred. Maybe that’s because its lyrics and melody really are top notch, with some interesting and vivid imagery. Plus, the question has been raging, with some honest interest in finding the answer, for years: who is the song about?
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April 26, 2009
1969| Bizarre Records
Frank Zappa is one of the most prolific artists of all time. Throughout the course of his thirty-year recording career, he slapped his name on over 40 albums, more than 20 having been released since his death. These range from (relatively) straight up rock, doo-wop, avant-garde classical, jazz, and computer music. Hot Rats, Zappa’s earliest release after having disbanded the Mothers of Invention, was his also first foray into what might strictly be called jazz – and it stands as one of his most impressive.
The album begins with what might be described as Zappa’s theme song, “Peaches en Regalia.” Instantly, you can feel his power. A confident drum fill propels the song into action, before we hear from Zappa’s right hand man on Rats, Ian Underwood. Underwood’s woodwinds really inform the song, with flute and saxophone each playing a large part.
More on Frank Zappa | Hot Rats
April 22, 2009
Sufjan Stevens can be thanked for single-handedly inserting the banjo into the indie-rock lexicon. Sure, bands like Town and Country have flirted with the southern strings, but never got beyond first or second base. Stevens, however, whose playing style is neither traditional country, nor straight up playing-guitar-on-the-banjo, made it cool for anyone to slap a little Steve Martin onto their style.
In my opinion, the banjo is the lynchpin of Stevens’s best albums (Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State, Seven Swans, and Come on Feel the Illinoise!). It helps pull you into a world where songs about God, geography and memory can work their magic.
Starting with Michigan, Sufjan’s banjo took on an intensely personal sound – he has a knack for making the instrument sound almost like an extension of himself. On “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti,” the banjo becomes the backbone of a heart-wrenching tale of poverty and circumstance. It manages to add a lonesome tone that a guitar or a keyboard simply couldn’t accomplish. On songs where the banjo is used in this way, as the first color on the canvas, it is mostly heard as a strum with a few notes plucked along the way. The style is uniquely his own. Even on albums where he has guested with his banjo (like those of Danielson and Denison Witmer), it is easy to tell who is playing. Stevens has managed to create a singular style within a relatively small body of work.
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April 12, 2009
“You Did Not Have a Home”
The Jesus Record
1998 | Myrrh Records
Since this is being posted on Easter, I figured it an appropriate time to cover a piece of Christian, or Christ-inspired, music. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a practicing Catholic, and my day job is church-related. When it comes to Christian music, however, 99% of it leaves me really disappointed. There are people on all levels of the political, spiritual, and practical spectrum of any given religion – but it seems that mostly only the ultra-conservative, zealous, fringers write songs about their faith.
I’ve been around Christian music long enough to find a few diamonds in the rough though. And I’ve decided to focus on one song in particular for this article. It was not a “hit” on Christian radio, nor is it one that is very well known. But I think it does all the things any good song should do: it has a unique perspective, it has a well-written melody, and it has good lyrics. It was written by the late Rich Mullins, and is called “You Did Not Have a Home.”
More on Rich Mullins | “You Did Not Have a Home”
April 1, 2009
HOLY MUSICIAN, BATMAN…
I am writing this article at an unfortunate time. The most recent album by They Might Be Giants, The Else, is their first release not to feature the accordion. This could be the end result of the instrument becoming less and less prominent in their music over the years, or it could be just an aberration in their catalogue. Regardless of the future of the accordion in their work, it is one of the many pieces that made TMBG a musical institution that continues to be important 25 years after the band’s formation.
John Linnell, one of the two Johns (along with Flansburgh) that makes up the band, plays a variety of instruments in the group – saxophone, keyboard, occasionally percussion or a stringed instrument, and the accordion. For much of their career, however, the accordion was Linnell’s thing.
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March 18, 2009
HOLY MUSICIAN, BATMAN…
I can’t believe that it has taken me this long to write about a drummer on Holy Musician. (Though my partner in crime, Steve, did ably write about Janet Weiss in January). I think part of the reason that I’ve held off is that this drummer is a lightning rod. A good drummer is usually pretty easy to spot, and can elevate a band quite noticeably. Similarly, a bad drummer can derail a band in mere seconds – something that probably can’t be said for a poor bassist or sub-par guitarist (distortion can hide a lot). And part of the fun of writing this column is sharing some of my favorite “secret weapons,” musicians who aren’t typically lauded.
Today’s subject would have been the headline-grabbing story had he been in any other band. But when you share the stage with an amazing singer/guitarist, a super cute, charismatic, and melodically gifted bassist/backing vocalist, and the guitar player who blew more minds in 1988 than anyone else on the planet, with his single-string assaults, you tend to blend into the background.
In case you haven’t already figured it out, I’m talking about David Lovering, the man behind the skins for the Pixies. Lovering is one of those musicians I always wanted to be like – a guy with a style all his own, who also fits seamlessly into his band. And though Lovering has done a little drumming outside of the Pixies, his particular style seems to fit best with them.
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March 4, 2009
HOLY MUSICIAN, BATMAN…
I really didn’t want to write about this guy. Not yet. I wanted to save this article for a period of true creative dehydration.
But then, I heard a song come up on my iTunes and I knew that I had to do this, today. I had to write about Mike Watt.
Watt is, hands down, my favorite electric bassist. To me, his work trumps everyone else’s – even the great, Paul McCartney. He manages to be melodic, aggressive, jazzy, restrained, experimental, free-thinking and, when he needs to be, simple. Watt is also one of the greatest DIY proponents – an early advocate of the internet as a tool to communicate with fans – a fine songwriter, and a hell of a class act. But before he is any of these things, he is an amazing bass player.
More on Man of the Minute: Mike Watt