The Changes Within

 Random Ranting  Comments Off on The Changes Within
Apr 022013
 

Listening to music used to require dedication and effort. Every 20 or 30 minutes you had to get up, pull the LP off of the turntable, flip, replace, and set the needle into the starter groove again. You had to maintain your records carefully or risk a scratched or skipping album, making it useless. There were also many advantages to vinyl, including far better sound quality than even CD. Before you stomp your feet up and down over that consider that most people listen to music on systems that so poorly recreate the recorded music they play as to alter it completely. On a good system vinyl is more dynamic, more alive, spacious, and closer to being there than CD, MP3, 16 – 42 FLAC, SACD, and DVD-A.

rp I have argued the wonders of vinyl before so I will move to the meat of this article. Digital files have all but removed my ability to listen to a complete album. I know that albums are not always thought of as single works of art in the digital age, which is a shame but even when I listen to older music now I spend more time picking through my collection song by song than I spend actually listening. Unless I am doing a review I either use Turntable.fm or use an automated playlist. I have lost the ability to listen to a full album simply for enjoyment.

We live in a one off world where information and entertainment come in bite size chunks. At the same time virtually everything in our lives is being created to the lowest common quality factor you can get away with in court. This has changed how music is written, recorded, mastered, sold, played, collected… everything has changed.

I am making a point to listen to more full albums for pleasure, just kick back and enjoy. What is the last full album you listened to in a single sitting outside of your car?

 

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Third Coast Kings Invade

 Music  Comments Off on Third Coast Kings Invade
Feb 272013
 

Put on some grinding, driving, screaming funk and you will see me transform into a different person.  I listen to most music with an analytical ear, immersing myself in the nuances of the recording, the lyrics, the solos, the meaning. No matter how many times I attempt to listen to funk this way I fail. Funk makes me move, it takes over my body like an ex with a voodoo doll. I lose all control.

thirdcoastkingsFunk isn’t there to be dissected, it is meant to get you horizontal as soon as its hypnotic powers let you step off the dance floor. There is no other form of music that throbs, swells, and drives the ways funk can. We are fortunate that funk is seeing a bit of rejuvenation. Thanks to my very good TurnTable.fm pal McBoozo, who resides in the funk friendly, classic rock room Ya Dig!, I am now a huge fan of Ann Arbor funktastic band Third Coast Kings. I just finished their self titled album and I love it.

Under normal circumstances I would follow my usual format and discuss the stand out songs, the flow of the album, ya know the reviewer stuff. The only thing I can say in this regard is that every song is funkalicious, equally so and from beginning to end you are simply there for one awesome ride.

We need more bands like Third Coast Kings and The Bamboos, an Australian group with a tad stronger soul lean than Third Coast Kings. I get excited when I hear what these bands are doing, how they are taking my beloved funk into the future. On top of all this, they have a vinyl release and that puts me terribly close to euphoric.

I won’t keep you any longer, you should be downloading Third Coast Kings album right now and for the rest of your life, when you get the urge to be lifted from your safe place and let someone else take control of your body, you will drop the needle here and prepare to get horizontal.

Who are the funk bands that could make you write a paragraph length sentence?

Feb 262013
 

I am taking a few college courses right now and it dawned on my recently that many of the people I go to school with have never known a time when you didn’t listen to music in a digital, mobile format. This got me thinking back to the earliest days when I used Winamp, and then Apple released the juggernaut known as iTunes.  Winamp played hi-res files and the formats I preferred, like FLAC. iTunes had its own format and then, like now changed your music files to a sound like what Apple wanted. iTunes was super easy to use as long as you agree with the way Apple believes your files should be organized, which is kind of like using your floor as a filing cabinet.

cansI hated digital files because I could see where it was headed, the utter destruction of quality recording. Well, thus far it hasn’t gotten that bad but we have some time left. Over the last 15 years I have been methodically moving my extensive music collection to digital. It is time consuming to rip thousands for CDs and especially vinyl records. I have however gotten it done and it became imperative that whatever program I used would never, ever, make a change to the sound of a file, never change a tag, and never do anything I didn’t want it to.

Eventually I loaded Media Center from JRiver onto all of my home computers. It controls as much or as little of my home entertainment systems as I choose. This includes playing ripped DVD and Blurays across my home network or if you feel really adventurous even to your phone or tablet when you are on the move.

For someone like myself, I wanted a clean music interface without all of the clunky video, picture, and crappola in my way. Media Center makes it as easy as clicking few buttons to strip those away so I have an uncluttered interface  with a back end that keeps my HD music files sounding as close to perfect as possible. You will simply hear the best your system is capable of.

The Computer Audiophile has put together an excellent review and how to of JRiver Media Center and explains in detail why it is as good as it is and how you can make it your own.

Do you still use iTunes?

Jan 142013
 

Chicago has always been an important part of blues history. It is where people first began to buy blues recordings in significant numbers. The demand sent every man with a microphone into the fields of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas recording any and all musicians they could find. Often the recording took place right in the field while men picked cotton, hoed rows, or cut hay to the rhythm being recorded.

calvinCalvin Conway recently released an EP titled By Rail which is the product of a personal journey that in many ways mimicked the trip from Chicago to Texas so many men looking for blues gold followed early in the 20th century. It seems this period of reflection and discovery so moved Calvin that he wrote and recorded By Rail while the memories were still at the front of his mind.

Living in Austin I can certainly understand how immersing yourself in the music of Texas would get the creative juices flowing. Calvin is a talented harp player with songwriting skills and a laid back, easy blues voice. All four songs on By Rail are upbeat, easy songs that sound much like I suspect his journey felt like most of the time.

Calvin discusses his trip on his website, calvinconway.com and he was in Texas during the drought, heat, and fires of recent years. This has influenced a darker blues sound that he says will be available on a later release.

Calvin also talks about his love of tube equipment in his recording process and it is evident even on the MP3 recordings, the only version I could find. While the EP is immersive and well recorded I can only wonder how much of his care is lost in the compression process. I found the dynamics to be exceptional for an MP3, another sign of care throughout the process, but I can’t shake the feeling that on my main system at least, some of the detail was missing.

All in all this is one heck of a start for Calvin and I look forward to his next release. I am also selfishly hoping for an Austin tour date one of these days. Do yourself a favor and drop a few bucks for a man who pays attention to the details in both his writing and his recording. By Rail will put a quick smile on your face and set your toes to tapping.