Just a few random thoughts about music, performances, CD's, artists and media.
Went the the Harry Smith Frolic in Greenfield, Mass. this past weekend. Had more fun than should be legal. Experienced an entire range of musical stuff. Played with really great musicians who knew how to listen and respond- creating a real music conversation. On the other end of the scale encountered some giant ego-driven nonsense. One of the highlights was playing in a small group with one fiddle and two other banjos. Normally this would seem like a skunk had wandered into a garden party- but when the other two banjo players turned out to be Don Borchelt and Ed Britt it became a religious music experience. If you haven't listened to the really great recordings of these two great players I'd highly recommend spending some time on either one of their music pages on Banjo Hangout.org- heres a link:
Don plays in 3-finger style on custom made banjo where the first five frets are replaced with a brass plate allowing for super clean, expressive slides. Ed plays on an Ome openback that he probably designed and plays clammer-style. It was really great listening to how these two worked together. They were also very generous in letting me play and then finding a voicing or pattern that would allow all three banjos to work together in a musical way. During this session we only played five or ten tunes, but just a few of those moments made the whole night worthwhile and memorable.
I heard Stevie Coyle for the first time the other night at the Me & Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead. I'm not normally a huge fan of the solo-guy-on-a-stage-playing- fingerstyle-guitar-and-singing-about-his-life type of thing. Normally I get bored after hearing the same picking patterns and the same harmonic progressions only slightly altered by the use of a capo. After a couple of songs I was trying to find an excuse to stealthily exit the room. But then something happened. I got interested by what he was doing. I know that musicians normally make the worst audience members so I tried to suspend the steady stream of fault-finding criticism that inevitably accompanies my boredom. In listening to him play and sing I was happily imagining the perfect mix of Jorma Kaukonnen / Tom Waits / Sgt. Pepper / Neil Young. The music was really good. The picking was different from song to song and even within each song. He was playing a Thompson guitar and playing and singing through a small AER amp. Each note of the guitar seemed perfectly suspended in a painting of deeply related color and rhythm. I kept looking for exotic tunings and partial capos. The farthest afield of standard tuning was that I thought I saw him go to drop-D once. He played a great mix of stuff from his latest CD "Ten in One" and covers and tunes I just didn't know at all but probably came from his other life as a member of the band The Waybacks. Toward the end of the show he got great audience participation by singing some familiar lyrics in a surprising new and wonderful setting. One of the audience members later commented on the great range of emotion that he seemed to effortlessly elicit from ten fingers and six strings. I heartily fought the post-show reaction of assaulting the artist with my normally hyperbolic praise and digging into my wallet to buy as many CD's as there was cash for. I failed miserably on the first account and had partial success on the second as I only left with one CD. I've only listened to it once all the way through and it is as I suspected really interesting. I'm really glad that I listened to my wife when she told me to get out of the office and go to the show. She's usually (read "always") right.