Archive for September, 2012

The members of Elvis Monroe – singer Bryan Hopkins, guitarist Ben Carey, drummer Ryan MacMillan, and bassist Matt Nelson – are no strangers to writing or recording great music.  Individually, they have contributed to more albums than I care to count, many of which met with great commercial success.  As a group though, the band has spent the last year pooling their talent.  The initial result is a six-song EP calledComin’ Around.

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I’m not a big fan of genres – I don’t like to pigeon-hole creative works – and Comin’ Around doesn’t fit neatly into any one category, anyway.  Call it pop, rock, singer-songwriter, alternative, or melodic rock – whatever you call it, it’s good music.

All six of the songs on the EP are true gems, not only when compared to the noise that comprises most of radio these days but in their own right as well.  It’s hard to choose a stand out, because they are all stand outs.

The opening track, Black Clouds, is a post-relationship song that manages not to wallow in despair.  It’s a catchy, up-tempo song with a beat you can’t help moving to and guitar riffs that echo in your head long after the song is over.  The lyrics also offer a bit of hope and perspective right from the get-go: “Somewhere there’s a light on.  Somewhere there’s a meaning for all this – pain and bliss.”

The second track, Green Light, is another up-tempo tune.  This one captures the thrill of that first moment when you meet someone and sparks fly but also the point where a relationship hits a roadblock and you fight to get it back on track.  All this with a danceable beat.

The EP slows down a bit on the third track, Comin’ Around.  This is one of the two most emotional songs on the EP.  The pain of loss and the hope for better days are almost palpable.  The lyrics, vocals, and music all carry the emotion, compounding the effect until it seeps into every pore of your being.

Track four, Rewind, picks up the pace again.  It’s another catchy song, but it’s also much more than that.  The lyrics are meaningful as well as memorable, and it’s those and the guitar that really stand out on this song.  I’m not a musician, so I don’t have the proper terms for what’s going on with the guitar in this song, but I can say it’s one of my favorite bits of guitar work.  Period.

Track five, Leave Me, is easily the most emotional track on the EP.  The song opens with acoustic guitar, and within the five seconds, it’s set the tone for the story the lyrics tell.  Add the drums and bass, and it’s enough to give you chills.  Add Bryan Hopkins’s powerful, emotional vocals, and you’ll find a lump in your throat.  With the lyrics thrown in, you just might find yourself with tears in your eyes or an ache in your chest.  If not, you may need to get yourself to a doctor to see if you have a heart – or to a priest to see if you have a soul.  The song ends without a flourish or much warning, and I find this to be a stroke of genius, an echo of the lack of closure that comes with the sudden end of a relationship.

The closing track, Beautiful End, is aptly named.  It’s a beautiful song, sad but hopeful.  The song’s strength is in its simplicity, its raw, stripped-down presentation.  It’s the perfect song to round out a great collection of music.

Elvis Monroe, with the help of producer Jay Ruston (and, if I’m not mistaken, various co-writers), has put together an amazing debut EP that showcases both the writing and musical talents of the group’s members.  It’s an excellent first offering and I can only imagine great things ahead for both the band and its fans.
What:   Comin’ Around EP

Who:    Elvis Monroe

When:   released 9/8/2012

Where: Amazon and iTunes

http://www.amazon.com/Comin-Around/dp/B0098WYYDU/ref=sr_shvl_album_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347436937&sr=301-1

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/comin-around-ep/id561063783?uo=4″ target=”itunes_store”>Comin’ Around – EP – Elvis Monroe

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Selling Out?

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Music & Related

 

In 1957, a teenaged TV actor named Ricky Nelson took control of his destiny and became a pop musician.  He recorded an album made up of songs penned by popular songwriters of the day.  That album reached number one on the album charts.

Over the course of the next five years, Rick Nelson continued to record other writer’s songs, along with a very few of his own.  His albums and singles were tremendously popular.

In 1964, the British Invasion changed the course of rock and roll, and Rick Nelson’s popularity waned.  He chose to take his music in a different direction – the direction of country music.  His new sound was the forerunner of what would eventually be called ‘southern rock’.  During this time, most of the songs he recorded were ones that he had written, though he also chose to record songs penned by Rolling Stones members Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and by folk icon Bob Dylan.

In 1971, Rick Nelson was invited to play a rock and roll revival concert at Madison Square Garden.  He went out on stage dressed in bell bottoms with his long hair loose around his shoulders, and after playing a couple of his old hits, launched into some of his new music.  The new sound and the new look were too much for his old ‘fans,’ and he was booed off the stage.

Fast-forward forty years.  The year is 2012.  Music has changed and evolved and changed again.  The one thing that has remained the same is that music ‘fans’ are still afraid of change.  If anything, ‘fans’ have become more afraid of change.  Every time you turn around, some band or artist is being accused of ‘selling out’ because he or she or they decided to try something new, to change musical direction.  ‘Fans’, it seems, have learned nothing over the years.

The interesting thing about the majority of the bands accused of selling out is that they all tend to respond in the same way, the same way that Rick Nelson responded to his reception at the concert in Madison Square Garden.  These bands all say that they write music primarily to please themselves.  Nelson, after the disastrous revival concert, penned a song called “Garden Party” that talks about that very same thing – how it’s not possible to make everyone happy, so you’ve got to look to your own desires first.

Ironically, writing songs for their own pleasure means that these bands and artists are doing exactly the opposite of selling out.

So what’s the point of this post?  What’s the moral of the story?  Simple, and two-fold.  One, don’t be too quick to judge a band’s integrity based upon whether you like the direction their music has taken. And two, write (or draw or paint or create in whatever medium you work in) whatever makes you happy and feels natural and right to you, and don’t worry too much about what the reader or listener or viewer, because if you put your heart and soul into something, the right people will appreciate it, learn from it, and be inspired by it.

25 Random Things

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

There was a meme that went around Facebook ages ago in which the poster listed 25 random things about himself/herself.  Since I’ve recently made a lot of new friends on Facebook, I thought I’d revisit it here.

  1. I’m the youngest of 6 kids (and have 18 nieces and nephews…and I’ve lost count of the great-nieces and great-nephews!).
  2. I once drove 2,000 miles (from East Texas to Los Angeles) for a concert.
  3. I love working at and visiting amusement parks, but I don’t ride rollercoasters…or much of anything else.
  4. I love being near or on the ocean.
  5. Someday, I want to co-own a piano bar with my evil twin.  Preferably somewhere near the ocean.  Maybe a piano bar and grill, attached to a nice little inn with a kickass bakery.
  6. I believe in God and spirituality, but am not a fan of religion.
  7. I believe in love, but am not a proponent of marriage (not an opponent of it, either).
  8. In the past 14 years, I’ve lived in 7 different cities in 3 states.
  9. I believe you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat service workers (like store clerks and, especially, restaurant servers).
  10. hate being tickled.
  11. If I were to go on a culinary tour of the places I’ve visited, my ‘must visits’ would include Perkins Restaurant (Memphis/Orlando), Steak N Shake (various), Umami Burger (LA), Origami Sushi (Round Rock, Texas), Earl of Sandwich (Orlando), and White Castle!  (I’d also get a Cuban sandwich and some key lime pie in Key West – something I didn’t do the last time).
  12. I love dressing up (formal wear, club wear, or costumes), but I also love t-shirts and cute sleep pants or PJs.
  13. I want to dye my hair Aqua.  Or maybe blood red.
  14. I have an unnatural affinity for Vegemite – especially in a grilled cheese sandwich or mac n cheese.
  15. I don’t have ‘favorites’ because what I like is always in flux.
  16. I love playing board games, especially trivia games, Risk, and Axis and Allies.
  17. I love watching flight demonstration teams (like the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds or the Black Diamonds) at airshows.
  18. One of the most awesome things I’ve ever done is climb Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica.
  19. I once lived in a hotel room.  For three weeks.  Without a job.  And had to share the full-size bed with my best friend.
  20. I don’t usually eat breakfast for breakfast.  In fact my favorite time to eat cereal is in the middle of the night.
  21. If I were to win a huge sum of money in the lottery, I’d take a world cruise.  A year on a ship visiting lots of new and exciting places sounds amazing.
  22. I tend to go barefoot as much as possible, but I love shoes and boots.  And ridiculously cute socks.
  23. I love all kinds of movies – animated movies, kids movies, chick flicks, screwball comedies, action-adventure, drama, war movies, and just about anything else.  As long as it’s believable (which is not the same as realistic) and well put together – a good story told well – that’s all that really matters.
  24. Scorpions freak me out.  The creepy crawly kind I mean, not the band.
  25. Gross inaccuracies in books, TV, or movies drive me absolutely batshit crazy.

SongPop & Memories

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Music & Related

 

My newest game obsession is a Facebook app called SongPop.  The way it works is this: you (or your opponent, depending on whose turn it is) choose a category; a snippet of a song plays, and you choose the correct song or artist from the four choices provided (a total of five times per game).  Simple, but sometimes challenging.

This game is interesting to me on a number of levels.  It’s fun seeing what songs and artists and genres my Facebook friends are most familiar with.  It’s fun seeing how quickly I can recognize the songs I know.  It’s cool to be able to recognize a song I don’t know based on the singer’s voice…or the particular sound of the lead guitar.  And it’s interesting to reconnect with songs I’ve forgotten or find new ones that catch my interest.

There’s one more thing that I enjoy about SongPop – something that I also enjoy about listening to music in general: having a song spark a memory.

Many songs spark memories for me because music is such a huge part of my life.  Some remind me of concerts I’ve been to.  Others remind me of parties or nights out a club.  Some bring back memories of my teenage years – or earlier.

“Santeria” by Sublime, for example, reminds me of countless nights at Jellyrolls in Orlando.  ”Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” remind me of shooting pool with my best friend back in high school.  And I have the vaguest memory of shaking my booty to “Shake Your Booty” by KC and the Sunshine Band when I was just a toddler.

While these memories are sometimes vague, like the ones I just mentioned, they tend to be perfect snapshots or short mental films of a particular moment.

For instance, when I hear “Your Body is a Wonderland” by John Mayer, I can see the horizon rising and falling through the window of the Rhapsody of the Seas.  I can’t hear “Five O’Clock Somewhere” by Alan Jackson (with a little help from Jimmy Buffett) without thinking of Ray McGee singing a slightly altered version of it to a roomful of drunk tourists at Jellyrolls – and seeing Jason Pawlak’s face as he said, “You can’t do that!”  And I will never, ever be able to hear Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” OR Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” without thinking of Matthew Nelson, without seeing him flip his hair and wink and do the Elvis point or seeing him tapping his Chuck Taylor’s in time while belting out an amazing rendition of Alanis’s song.

It’s amazing to me how music holds these sorts of memories safe in it’s embrace, just waiting for us to take them out and experience them again and again.  I have no idea why it works the way it does, and even if science can explain it, I don’t think I want to know.  I like to think it’s just another part of the magic that is music.

Live in the Now / Carpe Diem

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

My closest friend has been doing a lot of questioning and soul-searching lately, and in the course of doing so, she started reading up on Buddhism.  We’ve been discussing Buddhism and Taoism and some of the tenets thereof, and the one that’s been on my mind most is the idea of living in the moment.

The basic idea is not to dwell too much on the future or the past, but to fully live each moment as it comes along.  On the surface and in a general way, this makes a lot of sense to me.  Worrying overmuch about the future robs you of joy or contentment in the present.  Regretting the past does the same.  I understand this, and it’s something that I’m learning to accept and incorporate into my life.  But if you look too deeply at the idea, it becomes flawed.  Why?  Because some moments just aren’t worth experiencing all that deeply.

One of the texts that I read when I was studying up on this philosophy of living in the now said that we spend too much time thinking about things other than the here and now.  It gave the examples of worrying about work while on vacation and thinking ahead to the evening or weekend while we’re at work.  While I agree that we shouldn’t let worries about work spoil a vacation – the perfect opportunity to live deeply – I’m not so sure that thinking ahead while at work is a bad thing.  If, like me, you have a job that doesn’t afford you satisfaction beyond a way to make ends meet, why would you want to experience it deeply?  Why wouldn’t you want to think instead about more pleasant things that you have waiting for you after you get done with work for the day?  After all, anticipation is one of the things that keeps us human beings from succumbing to inertia.  If we had nothing to look forward to, how boring life would be!

On the flip side of the equation, you can take living in the moment too far and think too little of the future or the past.  You can forget mistakes you’ve made and end up repeating them.  Or you can neglect to anticipate the long-term ramifications of the decisions you make.  Sometimes, this isn’t such a bad thing, but other times it can be devastating.  I have fallen into the trap of thinking too little about future ramifications because I got so caught up in living in the moment.  I’ve been fortunate enough to not have my life wrecked by the consequences, and I believe that I’ve actually benefited greatly from those times when I just say ‘to hell with it’ and jumped off the proverbial cliff.  I know others who haven’t been so fortunate.  I guess the real trick is to make sure there is a net to catch you when you make that leap.

For me the best way of expressing my views of the philosophy is “Carpe Diem.”  I’m a big believer in spontaneity and in grabbing opportunities when they arise.  I’m a big believer in living life for all it’s worth because it’s uncertain.  At the end of the day, though, we still have to deal with a lot of stuff that gets in the way of ‘carpe diem’ – rent and bills and responsibility often collide with the opportunities that life throws at us.

We have to choose our paths carefully so we don’t end up on the streets.  Because of this I believe the key to this whole ‘live in the now’ thing is the same as it is for anything else: moderation and balance.  We have to find a healthy balance between planning for the future and living in the moment, between anticipation and contentment, between memories and dreams and reality.

I’m not sure how to find that balance, but I’m working on it.  I think there are some components that are missing in my life that would make it a lot easier to find that balance.  I’m working on that, too.

 

Think for a minute about some of the roles music has played in your life.  Have you ever used a silly song to help you remember something (if you learned your alphabet as a child by singing the “ABC” song, then you’ve done this one!)?  Have you witnessed music bringing people together or bonded with someone over music?  Have you seen anyone using music to rally people?  Has a song ever changed your point of view?  Made you think?  Lifted your spirits?  Made you feel less alone in the world?

Now imagine for a moment a world without music.  No “ABC” song.  No background noise during the daily commute to work, no ambiance for a romantic dinner, no epic soundtracks for the summer blockbusters, no upbeat tunes to motivate your workout, no mix-tapes or shared playlists of romantic songs that tell someone everything you can’t find the words to say, no wedding march, no lullabies.  No concerts, no dance clubs, no piano bars, no jukeboxes, no karaoke.  Imagine, too, that those songs that made you feel less alone or lifted your spirits never existed.

Can you imagine it?  I can’t.  I don’t want to.  The very notion frightens me.  Without the music that has gotten me through so many dark days, would I even still be here?  Best not to think about that one too deeply.

While music isn’t a basic necessity, it is still a vital part of our lives.  In turn, the folks who make music—not only the musicians but the entire music industry—are an important part of our lives.  What would have happened if one of the musicians whose music helped me stay strong and sane had run into tough times himself (or herself) and not had anyone to turn to for help?  That music might not have ever been made (and therefore wouldn’t have been there when I needed it).

Now imagine that there is an organization that helps musicians and others in the industry when they run into hard times.  An organization that makes sure these folks have medical care and a roof over their heads, ensures they have access to resources to help them overcome addiction, and helps them recover after a major catastrophe or natural disaster, like the massive flooding in Nashville in 2010.  This one is easy to imagine, because that organization exists.  It’s called MusiCares.

Just as music is a vital part of our lives, MusiCares has an important role to play.  By helping music industry people in need, they in turn help all of us to get pass the small and large roadbumps in our lives.

Imagine now that you can do something to help support the MusiCares Foundation and all of the programs it funds—without breaking the bank or even leaving your chair.  Imagine, too, that by donating to MusiCares you also got a couple of hours of entertainment, gained a little insight, and—just maybe—had something touch your heart or inspire you in some way.  This, too, is easy to imagine; with a couple of dollars and a couple of clicks, you can help MusiCares help musicians, and maybe even help yourself in the process.

Music Speaks is a collection of short stories about music and musicians.  The authors don’t earn a single cent.  Neither does the publisher.  Or the cover artist.  Or the editor.  Or that one poor woman who had to format the thing.  Every penny that doesn’t cover print and distribution costs goes directly to MusiCares, and from there on to those music folks who need help.

Click a link, take a look at what’s on offer, and consider supporting MusiCares by purchasing the Music Speaks anthology.  For less than the cost of a cup of gourmet coffee (ebook) or a fruitiful mixed drink (print), you can change a life—a life that just might end up changing, or saving, other lives.

You can purchase Music Speaks on Amazon, Barnes&Noble.com, or Smashwords.

Independence Day

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

At some point during the day, the Martina McBride song “Independence Day” popped into my head.  For those who don’t know, it’s a song about a woman who gets out of an abusive relationship in a very dramatic and final sort of way.  It got me thinking about my own experience with domestic violence.

Fourteen years ago, I entered into a relationship with a guy I didn’t know well (let’s call him Joe).  Joe lived on the other side of Texas, and we met while he was in my part of the world.  We spent a lot of time talking on the phone and the internet.  I went to visit him for a few days.  And then I packed up my car and moved across the state to live with him.

From very early on, I was unhappy.  I felt isolated and ignored, like I’d been lured away from home on false pretenses.  Things got worse from there, with him hurling unfounded jealous and suspicion at me along with insults and other harsh words.  He never raised a hand to me, so I didn’t realize how bad of a situation I had landed myself in.

I wish I could say I wised up and walked away with my head high, but that didn’t happen.  He cheated on me.  We broke up and got back together and broke up again.  He destroyed my self-esteem.  And still I didn’t understand until long after we’d broken up for the last time that abuse doesn’t have to involve fists.

Late last year I started writing a book, a novel, about my experiences with emotional abuse.  It was a story that I felt needed to be told.  So far, it’s less than half done; writing it is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever undertaken because I have dredge up so many bad memories I’d rather leave buried.  But if only one woman reads that book one day and realizes that she’s in a situation that she needs to get out of, it’ll be worth every tear and sleepless night.

This Independence Day, I’m grateful not only to be living in a country where I have freedoms that many in other parts of the world do not, but also to be free of that abusive relationship and of most of the damage it caused.