Tag Archives: reviews

I Miss Lester Bangs

Hell, I even miss Greil Marcus and Robert Christgau; and that’s saying something.

Whatever happened to credible music criticism? How is it that so many bands that sound so damned similar (and equally monotonous, repetitive, derivative and absolutely non-unique or memorable) are all apparently critical favorites, alternative darlings and award-winners? Other than a few fringe elements, no one out there dares suggest the emperor’s clothing is a bit transparent. Hell, in the old days, even the “gods” of music got shitty reviews. In fact, there used to be a balance of reviews In most “music” magazines: reviews that lauded some and derided others. Where has all the discouragement of asinine, simplistic, rushed, underdeveloped and/or just plain ill-advised and bad music gone? With the record companies (who used to at least serve as a filter ensuring that music released was at a certain level) slowly receding into the background, and radio likewise losing its editorial voice and power of selection, the selection of available music is so large that no one has the time to weed through each week’s hundreds of new releases to find out if any of it is any good – and certainly, relying on the number of downloads, views and/or shares is DEFINITELY not an indication of quality or even listenability, because those numbers are driven by hype, novelty, audacity and/or shock value first, and then only distantly biased by musicality.

I’ve subscribed to a number of music industry publications over the years (Rolling Stone, Billboard, Spin, Creem, Guitar Player, Bass Player, Keyboard, Fretboard and Paste, to name but a few), and over time I’ve seen the number of even nominally negative reviews shrink. I suppose with reduction of print pages combined with the massive increase in releases contributes to this phenomenon – there’s simply just not enough time or space to cover BOTH the good and the bad. But certainly, magazines pretending to be the arbiters of modern taste should be providing some sort of balance, guiding their ever-revolving audience of neophyte listeners (and honestly, who but an neophyte listener needs someone else to tell them what’s cool?) away from what just plain sucks, as well as toward that which they tout as miraculous and ground-breaking.

Of course, that idea presupposes that there is, among the tons of dreck out there that as I said above sounds disappointingly alike (and as I’ve posited elsewhere about the Billboard Top 100, owes much of its song structure, dynamics and general vibe to Gordon Sumner’s late 1970’s pop-reggae hit “So Lonely”) a small percentage of stuff that is really, absolutely great. Otherwise, ALL the reviews would be negative, and could in fact be very short: SUCKS AGAIN. SAME AS BEFORE. NOTHING NEW, REALLY. TRY AGAIN.

But then again, even as recent as the early 1990s, music reviewers at least pretended to be literary, to know the history of music into which their latest discovery fit, or at least the published biography of the artist releasing. As the quality of journalism overall has deteriorated far below any heretofore acceptable (or accepted) level of professionalism, it is only fair to expect that rock and roll journalism (a dangerously quasi-gonzo genre to begin with) should likewise suffer.

But really? To foist upon a trusting and needing to know public as honest, unbiased advice a set of reviews that instead of spurring improvement, blows sunshine?

Where is Lester Bangs, when you need him?

6 AUG 2014

Share This:

Round on the ends and high in the middle

After thoroughly enjoying my new Ampeg bass amp (the magnificent BA300 115), I am reminded of something essential:

It’s NOT the lows or the highs, it’s what you do with the middle that makes all the difference.

Yeah, the highs and lows are important, but it’s the middle that defines who you really are. And that’s brought home in bass amps by the incredible phenomenon that is the “Ampeg sound.” Anybody can effectively woof or tweet. But unless you’ve got the middle right, it’s either just mud or screech.

That’s a metaphor for life, I want to tell you. Like your second and third albums, the middle of anything (life, a string, a circle, the universe) really gets to the core of your being — and it either works, or it doesn’t.

That’s why there’s such a thing as a mid-life crisis (or Chrysler, as a friend of mine used to say). Because if you get to the middle, you’ve got to either get your shit together or quit. Otherwise, you’re like a dull knife that just ain’t cuttin’ it; talking loud and saying nuthin’.

BTW, the new Ampeg is awesome – only 59 pounds and pure SVT sound. You can get Duck Dunn, Bootsy, James Jamerson, Gene Simmons, Geezer Butler or Victor Wooten all with the dial of a button or two.

Share This:

Dear Rotosound


Not looking for any response, just wanted to let you know a little something.

I’m 43 years old and I’ve been playing electric bass continuously since I was 11 or 12. In that time, I’ve played a lot of different basses – Fender, Kramer, Gibson, Epiphone, Hagstrom, Musicman, Yamaha and Rickenbacker to name a few. Short scale, long scale, extra long scale. Roundwound, flatwound, half-round, nylon.

I’ve never been happy with anything but Rotosound strings. I’ve tried other strings (usually when I needed a last minute new set and couldn’t get Rotosounds) but they always seem to fall short of the mark. Jazz, hard rock, blues, punk, r & b or funk, small clubs, theaters, orchestra pits, bars or festivals -whatever the style, whatever the venue, Rotosound comes through with a consistent punch, clarity and beefy bottom end that no one else can match.

When I first started playing, I looked to inspirational bass players for tips on what equipment to use. It turned out that the bassists I loved the most – John Entwistle, Chris Squire and Jaco Pastorius, among others – all were Rotosound devotees. That was enough for me then. Now, younger and less experienced bass players see me at work and ask the same kind of questions. I tell them the same thing. Rotosound. Swing 66. It’s all you need to know.

Thank you, and best wishes for continued success.

Share This:

Movies About Musicians

Having just seen (actually for the second time) the made for VH1 movie “Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story” and recently also having watched “Ray” and “The Five Heartbeats” got me thinking about all the movies I’d seen about real or fictitious musicians or singers.

Musical biopics, I suppose they’re called in the trade; biographical pictures that because of their subject matter must include a great deal of music.

So I thought I’d put together a list, and over the next few months I’ll be updating to add comments and ratings to these flicks as a guide to the newly needing to be inspired musicians on my reading list. Because I’ve seen most of these movies, over the years, and found them either inspirational, insipid or in some cases, wildly inaccurate about the way being a musician actually works. No matter, the accuracy, however, it seems that the movie-going public has ALWAYS been fascinated by biographies of musicians, whether they would have them in their homes or not.

So here’s the list:

Continue reading

Share This:

A Tale of Two Singers

Last night I had the opportunity to take in a performance by a young singer-songwriter-guitarist named Adam Dale. I understand he’s originally from the Shreveport area but now based out of Baton Rouge. He plays a mix of original material and originally arranged covers that run the gamut from political satire to straight up rave up, all in a style that while definitely unique reminds me of a number of other performers, including but not limited to Dave Matthews and my good friend from Berklee, Aaron Flinn.

In particular, the parallels with Aaron were remarkable.

Both are very intricate and rhythmic guitarists, who manage to be delicate, dynamic and driving at the same time – which is no mean feat, I can tell you from 30 years of guitar-playing experience. It’s not any easy thing for any guitarist except Richie Havens to fill so much space without sounding like a repetitious drone. For good reason, Aaron has been recognized as the best acoustic guitarist in Vermont. I venture that Adam could fare likewise were such a competition held in Louisiana.

Both have very dramatic, one might almost say operatic, voices that they employ from a whisper to a scream to first draw you in and then almost knock you senseless. Their lyrics, too, have a cryptic feel and course with an ultra-personal and almost secret sense of meaning, and seem to weave perfectly between the polyrhythms of the guitar on their voices. Adam and Aaron both use quite a bit of falsetto; when I first heard Aaron sing, I thought immediately of Kate Bush, or Tori Amos. I still draw the comparison, vocal-wise, and do the same with Adam.

Then there is the physical showmanship. I guess having started as a classical musician (violin and clarinet), and then as an upright jazz bass player before I learned to rock, I never really learned (or rather, was taught to inhibit) the art of movement while playing. John Mayer’s got the art. Joe Cocker has it (in you might say a Picasso sort of fashion). Aaron Flinn and Adam Dale have it. Onstage, they keep moving. Always in motion, always (if eyes not closed in a moment of deep emotion or pique) in contact with their audience. In tandem with, or as counterpoint to, the jump-stop guitar chuka-chuck; approaching and retreating from the mic with the grace of swans. Myself, I’m more like a walrus. Not so interesting to watch.

I have seen and performed with Aaron numerous times in an acoustic setting. I have now experienced Adam Dale in similar surroundings. Both artists (and they are truly artists, definitely deserving of greater public acclaim, distribution and critical attention) also front full-scale electric bands. I’ve heard recordings of these efforts, but never seen them live and electric. I’m sure these shows are, no pun intended, electrifying, if they are anything like the acoustic shows, but bigger and more grandiose.

But there’s one area, I think, where both Aaron and Adam miss the mark. Both, in my opinion, have gorgeous and pure, clear voices. The majority of their vocal delivery, however, masks this underlying beauty with a kind of affectation, a deliberate quirkiness that runs the gamut from Stan Ridgeway to Tim Curry. Even when they’re singing ballads, they tend to truncate the notes, do some range jumping calisthenics and maintain a certain distance from what I can judge is a massive volume of pure tone. Both are large men with large voices; both are certainly effectively emotional singers. But I think both Adam and Aaron are a little afraid of their voices sounding gorgeous. Of casting aside all gimmickry and showmanship, all the fabulous guitar noodling, and simply stopping you dead in your tracks with sheer beauty. Because beauty, and that kind of exposing of the soul, is not what’s hip. It’s never been, nor probably never will be, cool to remind people that they don’t pay attention to what’s really important. It’s a scary thing to do, I must admit. I’ve only managed it on one or two occasions, and one of those was in private. Neither one of those times did I come close to what I think Aaron or Adam is capable of — because I’m more or less a trained singer, while these two are naturals.

Both Aaron Flinn and Adam Dale are capable of that kind of beauty, intrinsically. I’ve heard what they can do onstage. I’ve been in awe of the way they combine their vocals with their obvious guitar prowess. To put it in a clumsy metaphor, I’ve heard Saturday night. But I want Sunday morning. Take me to church, so to speak. I for one would love to hear it.

Share This:

New Insights into Genius?

I am currently reading a fascinating biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Mozart: A Life, by Maynard Solomon. Of particular interest to me is its focus on the relationship between father and son as one of the defining aspects of Mozart’s personality and life pursuit. Another interesting aspect of the biography is reference to passages like this:

What is a poet? A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music … And men crowd about the poet and say to him: ‘Sing for us soon again’; that is as much as to say: ‘May new sufferings torment your soul.’ — from Either/Or by Soren Kierkegaard

It is a literate biography and definitely worth reading.

Share This:


Some kinds of closure only come
in story books and movies;
real life rarely turns out quite
so neat and clean:
with one door neatly sliding open
as another firmly shuts;
such coincidence is rare
and far between.

To compress the waiting lifetime
in a moment on the screen,
or a couple hurried pages
seems obscene;
or at least, over optimistic
that the lessons to be learnt
are so obvious
as to be what they seem.

That a random chance encounter
on the escalator down
could result in an epiphany,
is rich;
just more pablum for the masses
who believe in self-help classes
and still fail to understand
that life’s a bitch.

Or that centuries of training
can be quickly overcome,
unspoken prejudice and hatred
swept aside;
just as likely as a fear
of heights or sense of isolation
can be vanquished
by a kiss, or airplane ride.

Some kinds of closure never come
at all, except in bits
and pieces you pick up
each new day:
once you learn your profound losses
are the only thing you own,
and you wouldn’t have it
any other way.

19 SEP 2006

Share This: