It Don’t Mean Much

For more than a year, some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Trouble is (1997)

I’m not sure what I was expecting to hear, but this wasn’t it. I know there’s a saying about judging things by their cover, but this album’s cover screams late ’90s to me. So while the graphic design is true-to-era, it doesn’t really prepare you for the musical content of the album. This is some groovy, blues-based southern rock.

It has pretty clean, technically impressive guitar riffs and solos. I don’t know that I always care for the sound of his voice, but that’s not why I’d listen to this. By the way, I think his best vocal performance was on Somehow, Somewhere, Someway, which sounded like some other band I’ve heard on the radio, but I can’t exactly put my finger on who.

Let me start with his cover of Hendrix‘s I Don’t Live Today, which sounded pretty faithful to the original albeit cleaner and less psychedelic. I think the point of recording a cover is to re-imagine a song in your own unique way. Playing a cover live is a totally different story – there you’re just going for audience approval. But committing a cover to something more permanent should have a little more substance to it.

I don’t exactly know what it is, but something about most of this record has an almost contemporary country feel to it – without the twang. It’s probably because he’s from Louisiana (and I’m assuming the rest of the guys in his band are, too), but it’s like it’s colored his writing and playing just a little. I’m not sure I like it. I mean, I’m not sure I only like a little of it. I’d rather they go one way or the other. Some songs, like (Long) Gone, are solidly on the more country side and do it well. Others, like Blue on Black (which sounds like something I would have wanted to write in high school) are more on the hard rock side. Either side is well done, but the middle stuff is more “meh” to me.

The real lowlight of the album was I Found Love When I Found You. I didn’t see the title of the song before it started playing, but almost right away I knew the track was going to be kinda cheesy. Not that I haven’t shared (or, let’s be honest, written) some cheesy music, but that still doesn’t make any of it really good. Still, I’ll totally give this album a 4/5.

Duke Ellington – Ken Burns’ Jazz (2000)

I have seen four (out of almost 30) of Ken Burns’ documentaries, and this is one of them. I know this isn’t a complete look into the world of Jazz, but it’s enough to be a high school class in jazz history.

I’m not really sure where to start with my review. I guess the highlights: I wasn’t sure what to think of The Mooche at first, but I really like it. I especially liked the solos. I’m not sure I loved the scat singing over the guitar solo, but otherwise it was a great tune. Rockin’ in Rhythm, Ko-Ko and Cotton Tail were some other great ones. But with standards like It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), Caravan, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Take the A Train, and Satan Satin Doll, I don’t know that I could pick a favorite. If anything, it helps show why those tunes are considered standards – not only are they staples of the genre, but they are what similar tunes are judged against.

I wouldn’t really say this had lowlights per se – some slower songs (Black and Tan Fantasy, Sophisticated Lady, Solitude) that were just alright. I think they’re the typifiers of one thing I don’t really like about some instrumental music – sometimes I feel like there are tunes that just lack purpose. At least with lyrical music, it’s trying to tell a story. It doesn’t succeed, but at least you know it’s trying. Movie scores (and other “accompaniment” music) do the same thing.

Not all of the slower songs were that way. I really liked the intimate feel of Come Sunday. But all in all, between the songs I love to play and the ones I felt made the album just drag on, I’d give this 3/5.

Aaron Copland - RodeoAaron Copland – Rodeo: The Courting at Burnt Ranch (1942)

A year ago, we all shared something our parents introduced us to. My dad likes most stuff off the oldies radio station, and some stuff off the classic rock stations. Both of my parents also enjoy bluegrass and real folk music, but that’s a relatively recent development. Until I got into college, the only music I knew my mother listened to was classical music.

So I thought I’d share some of that. But just like all the other music I’ve been sharing over the past year, there are so many options of what I could share, it’s almost overwhelming. But you have to start somewhere.

I picked Copland because I really like his stuff. It’s just good. It’s also very American. The United States is pretty young, culturally, compared to the rest of the world. But (while there are certainly some outliers) the majority of the music my friends and I have been sharing has been American music. So what better place to start than with a truly American composer? Not that I know a ton of earlier American composers, but what I have heard just sounds like more of the same that had been coming out of Europe for a century. Copland’s music is unique. Part of that comes from starting with folk tunes and spinning out of those and into his own compositions, but even his original music retains that inherently American feel – something I haven’t heard other places. He’s like the Norman Rockwell of composers.

Copland did work in some films (where it seems most composers work nowadays), but this came from a ballet. I don’t really think about the world of dancing (unless I’m watching Strictly Ballroom). Part of that probably comes from my context to ballet is mostly through impressionist paintings. The Nutcracker is the only ballet I’ve ever actually seen. The ballet version of Rodeo has five pieces of music. However, this also gets performed as a symphonic movement (where the orchestra is on stage and there are no dancers – unless you count the conductor) with four movements. Since that’s how I know this music, that’s what I’ve shared.

But I feel like even without dancers, the music still tells the story:

  1. A cowgirl seeks the affections of the head wrangler, who prefers the rancher’s daughter. The cowboys show up, and she mimics them as she tries to get the wrangler’s attention.
  2. The cowgirl is left alone with her thoughts. The wrangler comes looking for the rancher’s daughter, and there’s some love triangle stuff that happens, but the wrangler and the daughter go away, leaving the cowgirl alone.
  3. The cowboys and their girls pair off. Expecting a partner and not finding one, the cowgirl is alone until the champion roper approaches her, having failed win the rancher’s daughter away from the wrangler.
  4. Things work out for everybody. The end.

It may be something you have to be in the mood for, and it certainly requires a different mindset to critique, but I quite enjoy it. Here’s what my friends thought:

“I didn’t realize this was from a ballet. I’m not sure if this sounds so American because I know it and immediately make the association, or if it really sounds different. It does seem a bit simpler, more folk inspired than the tradition steeped European classical music that defined western music. This is a good piece and its nice to listen to again.” 4/5 – Spencer

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One thought on “It Don’t Mean Much

  1. Pingback: There is Magic at Your Fingers | An American Audio-logue

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