So it was that I had a very fine collection of CDs from amateur and professional musicians when I returned from that trip, and I have been listening to new music for days during my morning exercises since then. I decided that I should occasionally share my morning exercise listening experiences with readers of this blog when I have no open mic news or videos to exploit.
Please keep in mind that I am ill-educated, and ill-equipped to be a music critic, with a terrible memory for who played what when, for an atrocious lack of care about who actually plays the songs I love and maybe even sing to myself in the shower – after the morning exercises – and that I have no music critic pretensions at all. In fact, I tend to agree with Hemingway that you cannot hunt with the hounds and run with the hares, or whatever it was he said about literary critics.
Still, I have music I like, love and hate. I have my personal impressions, and so like any listener in the world, I can say something about what I listen to, and share my point of view with other non-critics, many readers of this blog. And that is what I’ve decided to do occasionally when there are enough CDs to talk about. Keep in mind also that my impressions and opinions will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.Let me start with the three CDs handed out by the Lotus team: Foo Fighters’ Greatest Hits, Depeche Mode Delta Machine and Bowie’s latest album, The Next Day. This was a really interesting listening exercise (no pun intended), as it set off bands from three decades against each other: The 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Of course they all span all decades since then, but for me the clear, clear, clear winner was Bowie. In a word, the Foo Fighters album just sounded like background music to me. Sorry, but I really like original melodies and vocals, and … well, this was just the same rhythmic rumble from beginning to end. Nothing more to say on that one. I listened to it once, and may listen again in some faraway future. But I just don’t see the point.
Right, so between the Depeche Mode and the Bowie? I was really excited about the double CD of Depeche Mode, and when I started listening to it I could clearly hear sharp, strident, cutting beats and… then it all sounded like elevator music. There was nothing on this album that told me this band was still capable of making hits like some of the ones it did in the 1980s. Weirdly, very weirdly, it all sounded exactly like the Depeche Mode of the 1980s, but without anything that stands out. Horribly, in fact, I felt like the album could have been made in the 1980s. What was the point? How had they grown??? What had they done all those years? The vocals remain as fresh as 30 years ago. No loss of voice here. But this was cookie-cutter 1980s Depeche Mode without the originality. I listened once, then started listening a second time on another day, and said, “Nope.”
Jeez. I’m really being scathing here, and I’m wondering how intelligent this exercise really is. After all, I’m sounding as nasty as a critic! But since my words count for nothing, and as a musician I have a following of about 10, rather than 10 million, what the hell! Morning exercises criticism, right?
OK. So on to the Bowie. The first time I listened, I was pleased to hear it sounded like Bowie. I had actually read another critic saying in one of the aforementioned magazines, however, that Bowie had not developed anything new on this, and we were hearing something that might have been done in the late 1970s. In a way, I agreed. But the production of the album, and again, the quality of the vocals – Bowie’s voice is still there, mostly – were pleasing. So although I was not overly impressed, I was adequately impressed.
I also remembered that historically, whenever a new Bowie would come out, I’d usually write it off…. only to love it with time. So I decided to put it on again another day. Especially as a way of comparing to the Depeche Mode. I then started listening more closely to the lyrics, and also noticing the differentiation between the melodies and rhythms, and I said, “No, this is not ‘all the same’, and no, he could not have done these lyrics in the 1970s. This is now. This is new. This is Bowie.” I listened to it a third time, another day. And it brought more to me, and grew on me, and I have to say that the oldest musician amongst these three bands, the dinosaur amongst them, he’s the one who produced the most interesting album. And a really nice album. I will listen to it again. Oh, I’m not completely without my criticisms. What is it, I asked myself, about these geriatric giants that they are writing songs about, in Bowie’s case, Valentine’s Day, and in Paul Simon’s case on his album a couple of years ago, Christmas Day…? Both must be the worst tracks. But that Simon album was magnificent – for me, better than the Bowie. But in both cases, it warmed my morning exercise muscles, to say nothing of my soul, and made me feel as if there was hope in aging rockers….
A Formula One journalist friend of mine from Canada passed on a CD from a friend of his while I was in Malaysia. The musician is Peter Dick, and he is a pianist, and a fan of Formula One. His CD, based on some sessions he did in Hart House at the University of Toronto, is called “String Theory,” and it is a mixture of some kind of contemporary music and jazz, including one song by Bill Evans. I really love this kind of piano, which reminded me slightly of Keith Jarrett. One of the songs, bizarrely, or rather, fittingly, is called “Ayrton,” after Ayrton Senna, the deceased Formula One driver. I really liked the CD, but unfortunately, there are two tracks that I will have to program OUT of my playlist. These are the two tracks where Dick decides to “sing.” Sorry, but the singing style and lyrics just didn’t do it for me, and completely killed their respective tracks. The rest of Dick’s compositions were very cool, laid back, intricate listening.
When I did that fabulous open mic in Malaysia in the middle of the suburbs at a place I had a hard time getting a cab driver to find for me, there was a musician named Shaneil Devaser, who I quite liked during the evening. He had original compositions, a varied style, nice guitar playing and singing range. Clever lyrics, clever songs. So as I left the open mic, I gladly bought a copy of his CD EP, simply named after himself. It was fun to listen to it and hear how some of the songs sounded in a recording environment and sometimes with other instruments rather than just his vocals and guitar as he did live.Finally, upon my return to Paris while I attended the Tennessee Bar open mic the very day I had left Malaysia that morning, I had just arrived at the open mic and found a guy taking to the stage who came from Nashville. I was involved in conversations with friends who greeted me after my two week absence, but I had to stop talking and record the guy. His voice was very strong, and he had nice guitar work, and some catchy sounding country-like tunes. His name was Anthony Bernhauser, and afterwards he came up to me and introduced himself as someone who had read this blog and who had sent me an email asking me about places to play in Paris. I remembered him instantly, and he gave me his CD. Beautifully produced, you can really hear the strength and richness of his guitar, and it’s a real feel of Nashville, and current Americana singer songwriter stuff – I think, anyway….
Well, that’s it. Strange, I’ve been vicious with a couple of the most successful bands – although not with THE most successful. So maybe that means something. Personally, it was just the way I truly felt about this crop of CDs. But I never did like exercising….
Bonus track: While I’m at this, I might as well mention another CD that I received before my two week trip to Australia and Malaysia, even if it is out of synch time wise with these in terms of when I got it…. This is one from a guy I have seen play recently in Paris open mics, but who I first saw playing at Earle Holmes’s open mic at the Truskell when the guy was maybe 15 years old. This the EP of Josh Savage, called Mountains in Hurricanes. There are some very catchy lyrics here, and Josh could always sing. Nice move.