Due to my wonderful friends and family, I have had the great fortune of receiving some absolutely fantastic music lately. In fact, I have so much I need to listen to that I'm having a hard time finding time to listen to it all! This is a wonderful problem to have, but it's still a problem. In order to hear the painstaking details that went into these songs it is only appropriate to listen to them on quality speakers or headphones. I love the volume that Apple is able to get out of these tiny little Mac speakers, but they are simply not up to par for a quality listening session.
These listening sessions go way beyond simply listening and following along with lyrics (which I rarely do.) No, I see these sessions as learning opportunities, studying not only the recording techniques and decisions, but also the song structure, instrumentation, and all that other good stuff. Does this suck the fun out of music? Absolutely not. I love learning and it is a challenge and something that I enjoy more with each new artist I stumble upon. I make mental notes in hopes of using what I have learned in my own work. I try to learn what works, and more importantly, what doesn't. Having an arsenal of options in my head pays dividends in the real world.
One of the artists I have been crushing on lately is Josh Ritter. Described by iTunes as Country and folk, Rock, Pop, and just Folk, Josh Ritter is an extremely talented singer/songwriter whose lyrics and song writing are worth more than one listen. The first song I heard of his was called "The Curse," off of his newest album So Runs the World Away. Thank God for NPR's World Cafe. That was a great car ride home and I was eager to find more by this guy. (Because I didn't hear who the artist was before the song started, I initially entered the World Cafe playlist from the evening and thought it was Tim Robbins and his band...that was close.) "The Curse" is about a mummy who falls in love with the female archeologist who found him and brought him back to New York. She repeatedly asks, "Are you cursed?" to which he replies "I think that I'm cured." But as the song progresses, she gets older, he becomes famous, she dies, and we are left with the initial question and answer again. It sounds hokey when I spell it out. Any story with a mummy is bound to raise eyebrows, but it is an incredible song that I suggest you check out. Other favorites include Harrisburg, Gallahad, and Girl in the War. Each of these displays clever wordplay that is instantly memorable, some making you smile and the others making you think.
This whole "folk revival" has gotten me very excited. There is such a unique focus on writing quality songs and crafting memorable stories that it is impossible to let Bob Dylan ruin the genre for me anymore. In fact, some of Dylan's work is now listenable. This is huge for me. But my new band, the Miss Misery Trio, has gravitated towards the folk stylings without even thinking about it. The combination of personalities and influences is creating my own exciting music. It excites us anyways. And speaking from years of playing in (shitty) bands that range from Irish Folk/Punk to Grunge/Metal, I have never been this excited. Most bands have revolved around songs that I have written, but that doesn't mean they were good. I am now at a point in my life where the "listening sessions" are culminating into sensibilities that translate quickly to my music, making the songs much better. I also have great band members that I can bounce ideas off of, echo my enthusiasm, and can collaborate and trust immediately. Wish I had more time to dedicate to this stuff.