Archive for the ‘Music & Related’ Category

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.

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.

 

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.