I Got My Mind Made Up

Some of my co-workers and I started sharing some of our favorite music. We’ve been doing it for a while, but now we’re actually reviewing them and sharing those reviews with one another.

As some of you may know, I play music. So when I listen to music, much of the time I listen for things to try, to push my skills and make me better. There are some musicians – like Chris Thile – who are so good, I get discouraged that I’ll ever be that good. One of those musicians is Django Reinhardt on guitar.

The man was born to gypsies and grew up on the streets of Paris. When he was a young man, he got caught in a fire and burned his ring and pinky finger on his left hand. But he didn’t let that hold him back from his playing. Not only did he invent and pioneer gypsy jazz as a genre, but using only his first and middle finger, he is still a better – and faster – guitar player than 99 percent of the guitarists I’ve heard. Just watch 20 seconds of this and you’ll understand what I mean:

He died in ’53, so pretty much all of his work was singles; before recording musicians thought of albums as anything more than collections, like greatest hits. Since it would be hard to make sure my coworkers – who use a random assortment of iTunes, Spotify and Google Play – all listen to the right album, I’m going to share a different artist who has albums like we tend to think of them, but I couldn’t let Django go unmentioned. FYI, I’d score almost anything Django plays at least a 4/5.

Before we get to my coworkers’ suggestions, though, this is one of my favorite Django Reinhardt songs. He led a jazz group for 14 year called le Quintette du Hot Club de France with violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Here’s a collaboration between the Quintet and singer Beryl Davis called Undecided:

There was only one album that was suggested to me this week. Most of my music suggestions come from coworkers, but feel free to share stuff you like, stuff that gets you through the work day, stuff that inspires you when you’re not at work.

A quick note on how I rate things. One star means I don’t think it qualifies as music. Five stars mean I wish I wrote the thing. Most music for me is a three.

OneRepublic – Native (2013)

I first heard of OneRepublic in 2008 or maybe 2009. They came through where I was living at the time and a coworker was, for lack of a better word, giddy with excitement. I don’t have a very high opinion of this kid or his taste in music, so I honestly haven’t even thought about giving OneRepublic a fair shake.

It’s not like Michael Jackson or others who I have an opinion of. The closest thing to an opinion about OneRepublic I have is an opinion of one of their fans.

My wife watches Ellen and they were on her show just a couple of weeks ago. My wife showed it to me and it was not what I expected. It was better. I mean, I expected the rather cookie cutter pop rock. But they also had more of a groove than I expected and just a big sound. I don’t know how else to explain it. Maybe it’s because they had two drum kits and some clapping background singers, but they just sounded big.

And that’s kinda it.

I mean they’re talented and they’re fun, but they’re not mind-blowing.

But they don’t have to be. Just like ZZ Top or Kiss, I like this album. I wouldn’t even call it a guilty pleasure. While I certainly like things that have been mainstream, or even “mainstream” within a sub-culture, I don’t like much that’s currently on Top 40 radio. This however is one of the few overlaps. It is unassuming, loud, fun pop rock. And there’s no shame in that.

I’m not sure that I’d buy this, but I won’t skip past it when I come up on a mix. I’ll probably throw this in a Spotify playlist and enjoy it when it come up from time to time.

Rodrigo y Gabriela – 9 Dead Alive (2014)

Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero are both from Mexico City and grew up listening to classical Spanish guitar, jazz and hard rock – and their music is definitely a fusion of those genres. Beyond that, it’s hard to really describe their style. Individually, they’re impressive. Together, they’re superb. And it’s just the two of them – acoustic – with  no overdubs. Sometimes I listen to big band swing music by bands with 18 members. Rodrigo y Gabriela achieve a sound that is just as exciting and big as plugged-in bands.

You Breaking Bad watchers may recognize some of their stuff, which has been used on that show. I think I first discovered them when I picked up the Nightmare Revisited album, and was then pleasantly surprised when I recognized their sound in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

This album has nine songs inspired by and dedicated to people you may have heard of (like Harriet Tubman, Fyodor Dostoevsky or Eleanor of Aquitaine) and people you may not have heard of (like Spanish guitar-maker and -player Antonio de Torres Jurado and Norwegian explorer of the arctic Fridtjof Nansen). Not that you have to know who any of those people are to enjoy the music, I just thought it was interesting.

I had a hard time deciding which of their albums to share, so I just went with their most recent. Feel free to let me know in the comments below what you thought about any of their stuff. 4/5.

Here’s what my coworkers thought. Tim told me he’d rate the artist at a 5/5 but the album at only a 2/5. I think Tim thought Django Reinhardt and Rodrigo y Gabriela were the same person, because of his pronoun usage in what he wrote:

“This guy is so talented. Seriously, his guitar playing makes me feel like I shouldn’t even try to learn…I will never be anywhere close to as good as he is. So why do I give the album two stars? Because as an album I didn’t enjoy it. It fell into the trap that almost every “component” (drummer, guitar, bass, piano, etc) artist falls into when they release their own album. It is just way too self-indulgent. It felt like he was just jamming one day, came up with a really cool sequence, and then just play it over and over until he got bored; and then do it again for another song. It felt to me like there was just a real lack of story/experience to each song.

I don’t think this is a reflection on his talent at all. I think it is just reflective of when an artist like him, who typically plays with others, strikes out on their own. He has serious guitar skills, and I would like to hear more of what he has done in collaboration with others, and not self-indulgent music that means more to him than the audience.” -Tim

While I don’t think he’s wrong in his opinion, I would go so far as to say that all art (except for maybe the stuff that is commissioned) is self-indulgence. Some people can appreciate it despite the self-indulgence, some people appreciate because of the self-indulgence and many people don’t realize it is self-indulgence.

Also, I think that if they had worked lyrics into their music, he would have felt differently. If you think about melody lines, they’re pretty repetitive. And sometimes, even the lyrics get that way, too.


7 thoughts on “I Got My Mind Made Up

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