Archive for Music

Christian Music and John Mark McMillan’s “The Medicine”

Posted in Life, Music with tags , , on July 10, 2010 by raingeg

So I’ve just put a pot of water on to make some Saturday night pasta, in the mean time I’ve decided to write an album review. I suppose I should tell you the brief story that led me to this particular piece of music. Let me preface it by saying that I consider it a treat to actually review an album. It could be laziness, or just the fact that I’m not very enamored by new music, but I find myself buying about two new releases a year. It used to be that I was always looking for new bands on the horizon and looking out for new albums. Over the past few years my interest in new music has dwindled, and I’m much more content listening to an old record than a new artist.

It’s very rare that I am pleasantly surprised when it comes to listening to something that I’ve never heard before. I remember it happening some years ago now, when I listened to Wilco’s A Ghost is Born. I was in my best friends car one night, he had the album on and it hit like a ton of bricks, which is funny considering how light that albums sound is. Funny thing was, I couldn’t tell you what song it was that I listened to, I can just tell you that it hit me and I liked it. And it eventually lead me to really enjoy nearly all of Wilco’s music.

I remember waking up about a week ago, logging on to my FaceBook and just for the heck of it watching a video that my friend posted with the hash tag #musicthatdoesntsuck, so I guess that means it had to be good. This particular morning, like many mornings these days, I was stressed out, both mentally and physically. As many probably are, with the way things are politically, with the economy, and on top of all that just the everyday stress that comes with living. So, on this particularly stressful morning I clicked on the YouTube link my friend posted on his page. What to my wondrous eyes did appear, but a video and a song by John Mark McMillan. I happily watched as I ate my bagel before work.

I’d never heard of John Mark McMillan before, but I liked what I heard. The song playing was called “Skeleton Bones” and it seemed to hit me exactly the way the Wilco album did many years ago.

Christian music is not supposed to sound like this, its pretty good! Though I knew immediately that it was Christian music, which is something I liked. It was Christian music that didn’t wreak of the usual mundane stuff we hear pumped out in a fashion similar to that of the popular music of the secular industry. You know, the type of music that’s been run through one too many focus groups. Now my day was off to a good start and I felt much better.

Less than a week later I bought The Medicine. I didn’t know that McMillan had penned the popular Christian song “How He Loves” I just knew that he could write. It was evident in his lyrics, even One minute in to the first song of his that I’d ever heard. Also apparent was the fact that he was able to muster the courage to not sound like everyone else, something I admired.

For the last week I’ve been listening to the album as I drove around town. I listened to it straight through once and a few more times on shuffle, needless to say I liked it.

Modern Christian music, it seems, is supposed to have a certain sound, an almost corny sound that I can’t quite put my finger on. Its almost like there are a set of words and phrases that are to be repeated and any divergence from that path is to be regarded as wrong. Like using the mouths and minds that God has given us to create vivid imagery in our hearts and minds is to be avoided, so that even the basest mind can get the message. Though I’ve always understood The Gospel to be a simple message, one that is fit for the peasants and the kings, a message that does not need any dumming down. The addition of a metaphor that aptly attempts to put into words the wonder that is God is better than nothing at all. And a song that tugs on a joyful thought and applies it to Christ’s message is good. On the other end of the spectrum you have bands and artists that constantly force you question whether or not they are actually a Christians, a task that gets a bit too arduous. These artists are the byproduct of the Contemporary Christian music industry.

The Medicine does not fit either mold. I don’t want you all to think that I’m just writing this to bash on Contemporary Christian music, even though I am a little bit. I’m writing this because I thoroughly enjoyed John Mark McMillan’s work and I think that his music needs to be acknowledged and to a degree be emulated. Though I tread with caution there because I think blind emulation is something that has contributed to our current problem, and has created the other extreme, artists that won’t touch Christianity with a ten foot pole. There are in fact gems out there that write great Christian music and their work should not be marginalized.

Back to the album. The actual sound of The Medicine is a bit of a mix of Roots Rock, Folk Rock and plain old Rock music. The album is not lacking in lyrical mastery, and does not shy away from the powerful name of Christ, a plea for “righteousness” and what sounds like a real heart for God. It holds true to Christianity, all the while maintaining lyrics that uplift and make you think, as it holds on to a sound that leaves one desiring to hear more.

If I were you, I’d buy the album for $9.99 on iTunes, and check it out for yourself. It comes with some extras if you get it via iTunes. I hope the impact that The Medicine by John Mark Mcmillan had on me on a stressful Thursday morning will at least make you take a look at it, as I know this review is not quite like most reviews. I think about 25% was dedicated to the actual album.

Well, I polished off a plate of spaghetti and a couple of pieces of bread, now its off to bed so I can get to work in the morning.

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The Future of Media: Radio

Posted in Music, Technology with tags , , , , on October 14, 2009 by raingeg

What will happen to radio? My prediction is that music radio will be gone within a decade if radio stations don’t start taking a new approach to music radio, well, it could be considered an old approach. The best part about old radio was the jocks, some might say that people don’t want to hear the jocks anymore, but I beg to differ. They don’t want to hear the jocks talking about useless junk. I would submit that if music radio took a highly opinionated and music savvy jock and just let him loose he would actually bring in listeners. Just let the DJ play what the DJ wants to play, and if the DJ wants to not play something or even say how much he dislikes a certain band, let him do so! I know that there are people that will disagree with this approach, but I think its the only real way that music radio can be salvaged. Pleasing everyone is a very hard thing to do, in fact its darn near impossible to do, so stop trying to do it.

The second thing that music radio can do to improve, is to start creating one to three hour long blocks out of the day and gear those blocks to certain audiences. We’re already seeing this on some stations but it is not done nearly enough. For instance, the rock hour or the hard-rock block. Just three hours of hard-rock with the same jock, playing what he wants to play, much like The Alice Cooper show. This is a very talk radio style approach to music radio, but I think it is a way to make radio more entertaining. If both of these methods, opinionated, music savvy jocks and block shows were implemented, I think music radio has a better chance of being salvaged.

If those two methods don’t get implemented, forget about listening to the radio for music, you might as well just buy an iPod or listen to Pandora on your phone. The internet and technology has ruined the old radio industry and a new type of radio is emerging in the form of pod casting and music radio is going away because people can create their own play lists of music that they want to hear.

Lets say something like what I recommended happens and music radio still dies, what happens then? I think that within a decade you will see talk radio shifting gears and completely moved over to the FM side of the dial. A trend that we are already seeing a lot of. The value of the FM radio station will go down and AM will be rendered obsolete. Something that might happen, as the value of AM radio stations drop, as a result of everything moving to FM, smaller entities might take over AM stations, possibly religious or independent groups, and use them to provide very low-fi radio, provided the FCC would let that happen.

Internet stream in cars is not far off. You can already hook up your Blackberry to an AUX port in your car while streaming Pandora. As technology like that improves and cars start connecting to the web, radio over the internet in the car will be a reality.

All in all, music radio has run its course. I am sad to see it leaving, but I am not sad about what’s on the horizon. Technology will improve and the internet will expand, and the internet will be the “transmitter” and a web based iPod or phone will be the radio. Will the jock all but disappear? That is yet to be seen.

In the coming days I will write about all of the media industries in depth and tell you what I think will happen to them. So be sure to look for these posts interspersed with my normal blog activity.

Please read my introduction to this series by clicking here.

What Is Wrong With Country Music These Days?

Posted in Music with tags , , on September 10, 2009 by raingeg

When I was younger I was a fan of country music and for the most part I still am. I spent my younger years listening to the likes of Alan Jackson and George Straight and some of the older singers when I grew in age. There is something that I’ve always liked about country, apparently I’m not the only one. If you look at the numbers for radio ratings in Tucson, country music is always at the top.

Something happened within the last decade to country music that has turned it into a pop sensation, and that is just wrong in so many ways.

Here is the formula for Country music’s demise:
1 Serving of Jimmy Buffet.
1 Serving of Spanish words, that remind us of places like Cabo and Cancun.
1 Serving of Kenny Chsenee.
2 Serving of country singers that want to be rappers.
8 Serving of American Idol.
5 Serving of 14 year old girls that love country music.

Lets first address the Jimmy Buffet issue. I like Jimmy Buffet, I like “Cheeseburger In Paradise,” it’s a good song. But you can only sing about being a beach bum as a country singer for so long before it just gets old and I start longing to hear about cotton fields back home.

The use of Spanish words in country songs is fairly common, the first time I really heard any Spanish in a song was in George Straits “Easy Come, Easy Go.” “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash has a slightly Mexican flavor to it, but that’s not my problem. Its when we start using Spanish words in relation to places like Cabo or Cancun, or some boat in the middle of the ocean, with our feet in the sand, and a beer in our hand, ah, sickening.

Kenney Chesnee appears to take advantage of this whole beach bum style country. But when is enough, enough? How many times can you write that song about hanging on the beach with your buds before every song sounds the same. Far too many people have followed this formula and it gets pretty redundant after a while.

For some odd reason country music has decided that it would like to ditch the fiddle for some bling. Why artists like Big and Rich and Trace Atkins insist on writing music about “Budonkadonks” and saving a horse and riding a cowboy is beyond me. I don’t mind humor in songs, a lot of people can pull it off, but when you start making buffoons out of yourself it just gets old. Unfortunately people listen to this buffoonery.

American Idol. If anything has contributed to the death of good country music it is American Idol. These people get up there and sing songs that aren’t country songs with a southern accent and call it country. Don’t get me wrong, I love blending genres, but some of it just doesn’t work. Carey Underwood is a great singer, but I don’t think she compares to a good song by Reba, and I’m not even really a fan of Reba.

The transformation of country music into pop music has really contributed to its demise. For guy’s like me that want to hear sad songs with the steel guitar and a good fiddle, Taylor Swift just isn’t doing it. I think that with pop and rap music’s extreme popularity, those who want to actually hear instruments and a band but can’t handle hard rock or indie music have ventured over to country music. And country music has bent over backwards to appease these people, who tend to be 14 year old girls.

There are alternatives to the pop-country that is in the mainstream. You have the emergence Texas country, with artists like Pat Green, who play a more acoustic version of country rock, but even he‘s beginning to move more to the mainstream. They tend to follow in the footsteps of artists like Jerry Jeff Walker. You can always turn to Alt-Country, which is a blend of alternative rock of all sorts and country music. Older bands like Uncle Tupelo and The Drive By Truckers have been doing if for a while. Alt-Country can also be folkish, people like Ryan Adams fit into this mold. One of my favorite Alt-Country bands is Lucero. These people tend to follow in the footsteps of Pearl Jam on the alternative side, Bob Dylan on the folk-rock side and John Prine on the acoustic side. It is fair to note that the hardcore fans of Texas Country and Alt-Country probably don’t like each other too much, though I enjoy both. Alt-Country tends to be more political, while Texas country is not.

Maybe we won’t see too much true Country music hitting the mainstream anymore, but it would be great to see it come back. Instead we are stuck with songs about how great it is to sit on the beach with a beer in your hand, all true, but an over used formula.

Standby Red 5: Yearning For Recovery

Posted in Music with tags , , on May 29, 2009 by raingeg

Standby Red 5 is a band that summons the deepest feelings of the listener and allows for cognitive thoughts to flow clearly through the mind of the listener. The lack of lyrics and vocals is a plus because it allows the listener to play the part of the writer and the character in the song, in short, it draws you in.

Music is an incredible and unique apparatus. It starts with a performer and the yearning to communicate with the outside world. In many cases it is a group of performers communicating as one. The performer takes on the seemingly effortless, yet daunting task of bringing two parts of the body together to produce one product. What is more, if in a band, the performer joins his band mates and plays along with the music, in one accord. Standby Red 5 is a band of performers and a grand example of what music is supposed to be.

Alternative and indie music has come a long way. Though it was always innovative even when it looked simple and it was always intelligent even when it looked irrational, it, like all artistic realms has moved on, grown up and is now more of an adult. A lot of the youthful elitism that once existed, that may still linger with the old-timers of the punk, metal and indie scenes is disappearing with the rise of, ironically, new innovators and the younger artists. Walls that were put up are now being torn down by bands that approach music from the same angle as Standby Red 5. Standby exemplifies the progress made in the alternative music realm, as they experiment and pull from many areas of the alt-rock world and other areas of music in general, to put together what is good. There is no sense that Standby desires to make the listener cringe at the sound of the music, but there is also no lack of what one might call infectious edginess and finesse. The former is a desire that need not always exist within the alternative music realm in order to make the music set apart. Contrary to what some might believe beauty is not archaic.

The journey that is Standby Red 5’s new album “Yearning for Recovery” begins with a short and punchy introduction “Champion of the Deep.” You then travel to the catchy more pop based “Our Sinking Legacy,” a song that makes good use of the delay effect on the guitars and has a simple yet infectious drum beat, all in all this song will make you happy. The next stop is the ominous tale of triumph that is “Our Journey By Water” and “The Great Contention of Sea and Sky” two songs that when played back to back make a good team. “Our Journey By Water” starts off with ominous tones, but leads you to a place that eventually overcomes, sending you into the next song, which is arguably the heaviest part of the album musically. These two make for a good listen on a stormy night, because they pack the power of lightening and thunder while creating an atmosphere that pleases the ear.

“He Had The Faith” and “Noble Tealock” are catchy songs that showcase the bands good use of effects and diverse instrumentation. “A Riddle and Its Answer” begs for a little movement on the part of the listener, either clapping of the hands or stomping of the feet. The song wants you involved. At the end of the journey we find ourselves at “Iron Vessels” and “Hold Loosely…Love Strongly,” two songs that really let you know that Standby Red 5 does not believe in limiting themselves. Both songs bring an eclectic combination of instruments whether its the violin, the electric guitar and the xylophone, all while maintaining their sound, which makes for a good conclusion to this album.

All in all this is a good  solid album, coming from a good solid band. “Yearning For Recovery” does a great job of combining more pop oriented songs and heavier driving songs. The band is as musically tight live as they are on the album, but their live act is far from a mere copy of what is heard on the album, live it is even better. “Yearning For Recovery” leaves you yearning to listen to the album a second time, so that you may once again feel that desire to move, that moment of triumph or just allow your mind to be engulfed by the music, creating for you a world where your thoughts can run wild and your ear is thoroughly pleased.

Standby Red 5 MySpace

Hello December

Posted in Music with tags , on November 27, 2008 by raingeg

So I saw Merle Haggard with Dylan in 2006 and it was a good show. I’ve been thinking about this song for a while kind of fits these day’s.