Thursday, December 30, 2004

Musical Ditties for December

As I set forth on my quest to create a legal digital music library at a reasonable cost and prove to my kids they don't need Kazaa here is the story of my monthly haul.

Let's start with the creme of the crop. As you know I have a particular fondness for the eMusic service. Read my article here. eMusic has several signature tracks that buyers scarf-up right away. The most prominent and downloaded is Jamaican singer Arthur Lewis's reggae rendition of "Knockin' on Heaven Door" recorded with Eric Clapton. It's a sweet and mellow masterpiece without the monotonous reggae bump to it.

Another gem is Green Day's hit "Welcome to Paradise". This is an earlier version when they were just a Califunny garage band on the indie label Lookout Records.

There are five tracks from Bush that are a must have. The entire album "Sixteen" is available which includes the hits "Stone", "Machinehead", "Comedown", "Everything Zen", and "Glycerine."

Now for the fun part of uncovering past masterpieces and future gems from eMusic's and other online catalogs.

Booker T. and MG's/Melting Pot. If you loved the music from the Blues Brothers this is band that played it in the movie. Booker T. was the leader with Donald "Duck" Dunn and Steve Cropper. I found these three signature tunes "Kinda Easy Like," "Slum Baby," and "Melting Pot."

You won't find Jethro Tull on iTunes (at least not yet) but some of Ian Anderson's solo work and a new recording by Jethro Tull are available. The ditties I liked were "Bends Like a Willow", "", "Boris Dancing" and "Habenero Reel". I saw Jethro Tull play at Chautauqua Instititute a couple of years ago and Ian was as entertaining and quirky as ever.

I never understood why Gong, led by Daevid Allen, lent the band's name to percussionist Pierre Moerlin. They are two different sounds. The former was full of drug-crazed poetry with Steve Hillage's incredible guitar solos. The latter is one of the best jazz-fusion bands around. My favorites are the tracks "Soli" and "Second Wind" from the "Full Circle Live" album.

I love the blues and eMusic has plenty for me to dig through. If you love the Allman Brothers Band then you'll find many of the artists, like T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters, and their original recordings that influenced them. T-Bone's "Goin to Chicago Blues" and two tracks by Muddy Waters, "Gypsy Woman" and "Trouble No More," are two great examples.

Isaac Hayes: Themes from "Shaft" and "The Man". Before he become the voice of the school chef on "South Park" Isaac was The Man when it came to 70's black soul. These are two of his signature tracks from that period. The guitar line on "Shaft" is now a caricature of the 70's hip "cop-movie" sound.

Switching over to iTunes is "Reaching the Cold 100" by the Peter Green Splinter Band. After leaving Fleetwood Mac ages ago he set off on a solo career that never succeeded. But today this guy never sounded better. His voice has almost the perfect blues sound to it, deeper and raspier than the 70's. His acoustic version of "Albatross", a favorite from his Fleetwood Mac days, sounds like your ears are right on his guitar and the booming bass line will blow your speakers.

Best of the rest:

Steeleye Span: "Hard Times of Old England." Lots of mandolins here played by ex-Fairport Convention folks

The Kinks: "Come Dancing".

Man: "Spunk Rock" and "Angel Easy" from this legendary Welsh jam band.

Deke Leonard: "Someone is Calling". Lots of "twang" from ex-Man singer, guitarist and songwriter.

Credence Clearwater Revival: Their entire catalog is online. My favorites are "Bad Moon Rising" and "Who'll Stop the Rain."

Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan: "Pride and Joy", "Don't Lie to Me" and "Matchbox Blues".

Synergy: "Classical Gas" and "Relay Breakdown." Larry Fast was an early innovator of the synthesizer and later played with Peter Gabriel in the late 70's.

Michael Stanley: "Rosewood Bitters" with Todd Rundgren, "My Town", "Midwest Midnight" and other hits.

Canned Heat: "On the Road Again."

Not a bad catch for the month while proving once again you can build a legal digital musical library at a reasonable cost.

Copyright © 2004 James D. Fisher
All rights reserved.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Is there hope beyond the major online music services?

As I look down the lists that are coming out of the top 100 songs or albums of the year, sadly, I see few that appealed to me. New, innovative music has been in the dumper for about a decade. Soul and R&B has been in the dumper for almost 20 years thanks to rap/hip-hop. Classical hasn't found a road home yet. Jazz, while going through a financial renaissance during the "smooth" jazz era, is very much dead and "smells funny."

iTunes, MSN, Napster, Wal-Mart and the other online services have catalogs of over one million songs. Sounds impressive but if your musical tastes don't fall into into the mainstream then you're out of luck. It's true that 80% of music sales come from 20% of the artists. So why should the big online services license the lesser knowns? I mean why cater to those who want to listen blues, jazz, progressive and other genres? Unless you want to download Britney, Ashley, or Janet from the major online music services, they aren't going to help you.

I found hope and it's called eMusic. This little-known online music service has a catalog of over 500,000 songs and they can be downloaded for as little as twenty-two cents! They focus on titles that the big stores aren't licensing. The songs come as mp3's and will work on any mp3 player like Rio, iPod, iRiver and others.

There are many gems to be found on eMusic. I downloaded favorites by Albert King, Badfinger, Credence Clearwater Revial, Bo Diddley, Booker T. and the M.G.'s, the Kinks, Frank Zappa, Gong, King Curtis, Michael Stanley, Robin Trower, Jethro Tull, Man, Synergy, Van Morrison and many others. There are also songs by Bush, Green Day, and many bands popular with indie music lovers.

The best part is by simply signing up for eMusic they give you 50 free downloads.

If eMusic is successful, and I believe they are, then the door may open for other services to offer more songs. Yes, one million titles seems like more than anyone would ever want and need but millions of songs have been recorded since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. There is a market for them and kudos to eMusic for making more of these songs available.

Copyright © 2004 James D. Fisher
All rights reserved.