Jonny Lang Decides To Fight For His Soul

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Oct 242013

When you are gifted with the guitar playing abilities and natural blues voice of Jonny Lang, there are expectations that would cripple most 16 year olds, but he never backed away from the challenge. Lang’s guitar abilities were never in question, nor his vocal ability, but his albums always left you feeling like he was trapped in the blues by those around him. After a seven year hiatus from studio recording, Jonny Lang has come back with a more mature, more polished, and all-around better album than his past efforts called Fight For My Soul.

8176h74B+JL._SL1429_This album feels like it is his own,  where his heart really belongs. The playing is solid and his guitar skills are evident but not pushed forward like in his previous work. These songs all have a solo, as opposed to much of Lang’s early work, where a song seemed to be built around the solo. Even more reflective of Jonny’s change is the way he has left the blues in the background. You catch the hint of blues throughout the album but a more modern, epic vision unfolds as you listen.

We Are The Same showcases this new direction, it begins small and grows ever larger until the layers of voices, guitars, and backing instruments create a wave that propels the music forward before crashing against a rocky shore. Nothing about Fight For My Soul should come as a surprise, there have always been hints showing where his music was heading in his most popular songs, like Red Light.

Fight For My Soul is well recorded, with no artifacts from dynamic compression, and is easy to listen to multiple times without any ear fatigue. For fans who enjoy Lang’s music for his writing style over his guitar virtuosity there is a lot to like here. The lyrics have more focus, Jonny has more to say, and the music better meshes to enhance the emotions he wants to portray. The Truth is a perfect balance of Lang’s voice, control, and guitar, it is a very mature song sung by an adult instead of a kid.

I have always liked Jonny Lang and followed his career, but I have never fallen in love with any of his albums the way my wife has. Fight For My Soul hasn’t changed my mind, but just like previous albums, I will have no problem playing this for her again and again when she asks. This album is a tremendous return for a talented musician and songwriter, a man who is now walking in a direction of his own choosing.

‘Gatemouth’ Brown, The San Antonio Ballbuster

 Blues Masters, Music, Music Review  Comments Off on ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, The San Antonio Ballbuster
Aug 192013

It wasn’t easy deciding which of the great bluesmen I should write about first for this new series. I could go way back and dig through some of the whorehouse blues I love, or I could core out the father of modern blues and write about Robert Johnson. Hell, I could write about dozens of men and women who earned my respect but it was a conversation with my father that made me decide on someone I initially hadn’t considered. Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown earned his stripes a hundred times over and he finds his way onto my turntable more than most, still, it was something more personal that pushed him to the front of the line.

It was a crazy hot day at the ACL Festival in 2004. I was dripping wet from sweat and looked forward to watching an act under the single covered stage area. I was even more excited knowing that Clarence Gatemouth Brown was the act.gatemouth Brown moved slower than in the past, but his fingers were as nimble as ever. He flew around the fret board, his fingers and mind oblivious to his age. This would be the last time I saw Gatemouth, he passed a year later, leaving an expansive hole in the blues world.

Several years later, I gave my father an old touchscreen music server system. An outdated computer loaded with blues and jazz along with an inexpensive receiver I had in the attic. Somewhere during this process, I mentioned seeing Browns last Austin show, to which my father told me he used to go see Gatemouth play live way back in the 70s. Even more shocking to me was that Gatemouth played the Holiday Inn in Cody Wyoming, where I grew up.

My father had never really discussed music, I had no idea he had a passion for jazz and the blues. This was why I chose Brown for my first article in the series; his idea of the blues is as shocking as finding out your dad is a closet blues fan.

Clarence Gatemouth Brown was a proficient artist with likely more recordings lost to time than he has ever been credited with. This Louisiana born master of every instrument he picked up came to fame in Texas, where he was raised. I would love to pick out one album and say “this is the defining record” but like many of these old musicians, the records don’t necessarily reflect a single effort or even a single period in their career.

I find it difficult to pinpoint the height of his career or his skills. He is masterful from his first recording to his last. What sets Gatemouth apart from his fellow bluesmen is his willingness to bring in heavy jazz and country influences. I can think of no other blues artist that made regular use of a jazz flute. He helped create rock music as we know it, he could wail on a guitar like the devil and still play every note as cleanly as any guitarist I have heard.

Brown rarely played a song the same way twice, choosing to continue exploring the potential within. The must own Clarence Gatemouth Brown albums in my opinion start with San Antonio Ballbuster, a collection of influential songs that range from predating rock –n- roll to early 60s guitar jive. Browns wit shines throughout this album.

Back to Bogalusa along with American Music, Texas Style, and Timeless are all three later works that stand out for both their playing and songwriting. With dozens of additional recordings to choose from, all of them worth owning, these are simply a good place to start. Clarence Gatemouth Brown made music and toured longer than even the Rolling Stones. That says a lot about who he was and why he deserves to open this series. Now I’m going to drop the needle on some blues and give my dad a call.

Who would you like to see me cover in this series?

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 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?



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 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?

Jan 282013

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Advances in the science of biotechnology are breathtaking. We have the ability to read the information encoded in DNA, the blueprint of life, and can even manipulate the building blocks of life themselves.

dna-musicBut as science advances there are some that take a different view of this progress, regarding it not with the eye of a scientist but from the viewpoint of an artist.

Susan Alexjander holds an MA in music, which she teaches in Sacramento, California. Her compositions are fusing science and art, producing music that is a collaboration between her and DNA itself.

“Sound and the body interested me,” she says, “so did maths, physics and their relationship with sound. Because of this, I started collecting frequencies in nature.”

Melodic atoms

She asked if the movements of the atoms and molecules that make up our DNA could be recorded and heard. If so, what would they sound like? Random noise? Melodic?

She wanted to measure the actual molecular vibrations of DNA. So she approached University of California biologist Dr David Deamer and discovered it was actually quite easy to do.

The vibrations were easily measurable using an infrared spectrophotometer. By exposing each section of DNA to infrared light and measuring the wavelength of the light absorbed, it was possible to determine distinctive frequencies for each DNA molecule.

But how to turn them into music?

“I wanted to go inside the chemistry and hear the frequencies. I did the science with Dr David Deamer and then the artist’s hat went on.”

The ratios of the light frequencies were converted into ratios of sound. The relative relationship between light frequencies was kept. The result was strange, beautiful music.
“Some of the combinations of frequencies,” Alexjander adds, “are just stunning. I find it very arresting. It sounds alive to me.”

Most of the changes of pitches in her DNA music are microtonal – that is, their frequencies occur in the area between the half-tone steps of the western musical scale.

Microtonal pitches are nothing new in music, however. Some cultures have a long history of their use, especially those of India and the Middle and Far East.

These sounds from the molecular world are remarkable. They may mean something – they may mean nothing.

Alexjander says her music produces a strong reaction. She speculates: “Perhaps on a very deep level the body recognises itself – hears something familiar in the music. It’s a theory. I don’t know.”