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New Slang

I have already featured Robin Pecknold, and I think I said he was one of the best songwriters of this century, well, here’s the other, James Mercer.

Fortunately, there are versions of James Mercer’s songs both within the group, The Shins, and as guitarist and voice alone. I love both, but when he is just playing acoustic guitar and singing, you get a real sense of drama and how finely crafted his melodies are. I first heard this song on Pandora, but I don’t remember what station I was listening to. I think I was also listening to other groups like Fleet Foxes, The Killers, Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Modest Mouse, etc. Something about this song stood above them all. When I started to investigate his other songs, I quickly realized that he had written many pieces as good as this one. When you got it, you got it.

This video shows a live performance of the song, New Slang. I realize that this performance seems like simple strumming to go with the sung melody, but there is more to his playing than that, and his accuracy is noteworthy. There is a clear baseline and grace notes that carry subtle melodic elements. This is true whenever he performs in this format. It’s always more than it seems. I never tire of this song, nor many of his others.

Little Bird

This is another artist that is well loved by YouTube. I mean, there’s a lot of Laura Marling videos to choose from, and fortunately, they’re all good.

I think I first heard Laura Marling when she released the song, Rambling Man. I didn’t see a video of her until long after that. When I finally got to see her perform, I was struck by so many things. First, her voice is unique, and she uses it in so many ways. In fact, this video highlights her ability to switch between beautiful singing and singsong like story telling. What is even more striking is the array of timbres she generates with her guitar. Everything from bright to muted sounds and staccato to long sustains. As a side note, she uses alternative tunings. This provides opportunities to ring open strings in full sonorous chords. It sounds great.

This video is a live performance of the song, Little Bird. It is packed with emotion, which can be heard in the singer’s voice and seen on her face. There is a moment, when her guard is dropped, as she sings an incorrect lyric and smiles at her own mistake. Part of me is grateful that someone this good actually makes mistakes, and another part of me is empathetic to the moment. Regardless, I have watched this video many times and really love how expressive the song and performance are. This is the good stuff.

Jealous

My bucket list has one item, something from Orla that says, “Orla fancies me.”

I first learned of Orla Gartland from a friend of mine. I have no idea where he heard of her, but at the time, she had mostly covers on her YouTube channel and had just started writing her own music. I was impressed with this young woman who decided to use the Internet as her jury, and I was amused at her uncensored rendition of Little Lion Man. When she first started, her voice was somewhat reserved, but over time, she developed a voice I love to listen to. Her guitar playing was spot on from the beginning and developed to the point where you might think of her as a guitarist who sings. She can really play. She can also write beautiful songs.

This video is great, but in some ways a compromise. The original video for this song was my favorite video on YouTube. Orla provided fans with the lyrics to this song, then asked them for images or drawings that went with the song lines. The resulting video was a collage of these images set to the music. It was deep and emotional. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, it was later removed. This is a live performance of the song Jealous. Even though it’s not the original, it’s still amazing. I still love every moment of this song.

No Rain

I think I was inspired by last week’s blog and wanted to select another inspiring vocal performance. I really love Shannon Hoon’s voice. His passing was a real tragedy.

I’m sure I was aware of this song when it first hit the radio, but it came into focus when I heard a cover of it done by Mike Masse. It was then that I realized, not only what a great song it was, but how demanding the vocal part was. Consider the fact that I am a bass/baritone and notes above middle C require some determination. Notes above F require no one else be listening. So, you can see why I really admire tenors that can navigate such a high tessitura. I look up to them (so to speak). But that’s not all of it. Singing high is one thing, but having a unique expression in that range is intriguing, and in this case, riveting.

This version of the song, No Rain, is nicely performed in a very small venue fashion. The vocal performance here is different from the recording, but it might be better in many regards. It certainly connects with the listener. There is also a great guitar solo in this performance as well.

As Ugly as I Seem

Another amazing performance given in a non-traditional setting. To me, a performance like this feels very personal in that I feel like Jack and Meg White are performing for me alone. Like other great song writers, Jack White uses the lyrics to create a movie in your head.

In 2008, a documentary was made about, and starring; Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White: It Might Get Loud. I think it was at that moment that I realized that Jack White had achieved a rare status among rock guitarists. Hey, I was a Steve Howe guy. I started to explore his music and live performances and really enjoyed what I found. I still watch many of them over and over again. I came to see Jack White as the archetype Rockstar. He commands the stage with his guitar, his voice, his height, his looks, and his presence. It’s really striking. One of my favorite videos from him is the Raconteurs cover of the song, Bang Bang. Singing that song from the male perspective makes it all the more chilling.

It wasn’t until I was older that I began to appreciate vocal performances that weren’t “right” for American Idol. I don’t think Jack White would get his ticket to Vegas. But, that’s a narrow perspective on singing and fails to recognize some of the best there is. This video, to me, is some of the best there is. I’m pretty sure you will watch this one over and over again.

Klimbim

I think it’s about time to show off the leading edge of the guitar universe. Or so it seems. I have been a fan of this song and artist for a long time, and this recording is just so fine. Someday, I might be good enough to play the first phrase of this song. I can dream.

I haven’t even said his name yet: Don Ross. It seems unfair to watch a video of someone sitting on their bed, playing a cover song on their ukulele, and getting millions of views. Y’all should be watching this video! Yeah, it has over a million views, but relatively speaking, that’s not enough. Don Ross bridges sophistication with accessibility. His music is both complex and familiar. His songs fit nicely into the background but reside comfortably at center stage. Get the picture? Rant over. There are loads of great Don Ross videos, I would suggest you listen to RockBarra, With You in Mind, and Berkley Springs. He also made a number of songs with Andy McKee and they are amazing.

This video shows a live performance of the song Klimbim. The performance is perfect. His use of harmonics is stunning, adding complexity to the soundscape. This is important as solo guitar can sound too uniform across an entire song and lead to listener boredom. Don Ross uses the diverse library of guitar sounds available to him, and thus creates a vibrancy for the entire song. I hope you enjoy this enough to explore his other songs. Cheers.

Solid Ground

I have been a big fan of Josh Turner and Carson Mckee for a long time. Their videos are ones I watch again and again. Like many other artists I highlight here, I could have chosen any number of videos, but this one does a nice job showing off every aspect of their art.

The first time I saw one of their videos I was struck by how professional the sound was sans studio. And to this day, they might be the signal light I chase. They employ such a nice blend of guitar as orchestra with guitar as harmonic contrast with guitar as melody. Mix that with their voices and you get a library of possibilities. Although they do a lot of cover work, I think I enjoy and watch the original stuff the most. Make sure and check out Saturn Rising, Flawed Recording, Cross-Eyed Love, and my favorite, Armed and Dangerous.

This video shows a plein air performance of the original song, Solid Ground. You may want to watch this video multiple times. There is more here than the song itself. I think you’ll find that the video is also part of the experience. I go to this recipe a lot; two guitars and two voices, but it seems to make for a successful song more often than not. It certainly does here.

Orion

At some point I had to include this amazing guitar duo. I can’t remember when I first saw or heard them perform, but I was in with both feet right from the start. Rodrigo y Gabriela defy convention and challenge what role guitars can play in music. Their sound is unique.

There are many original pieces by RodGab, but I chose their version of Metallica’s Orion to showcase. I don’t think I’ve featured a cover song yet, but that was inevitable, and this is a good place to start. Not only because it is an amazing performance, but also because it is such a unique arrangement of this song. Of course, the song is recognizable, but it’s so different here that it almost stands as a parallel original.

So, again I relish seeing classical guitars being used with playing methods other than fingerpicking. Well, in this case, every method including fingerpicking. It sometimes feels like guitars are relegated to country strumming, metal shredding, or snooty classical finger-styling. Fortunately, so much more is possible. In this video, RodGab include flamenco, percussion, and slide using a beer bottle. I couldn’t help but notice the vicious scratch marks on Rodrigo’s guitar above the sound hole. I don’t think my pickguard has even a smudge. I might have to rethink how politely I play.

Heart of the Sunrise

I really enjoy the Band Geek YouTube channel. Richie and the band do amazing work. I recently found myself re-watching a bunch of videos there and landed on their version of the song Heart of the Sunrise by Yes. Amazing. The YouTube algorithm immediately offered me a look at the featured video. Wow.

My older brother introduced me to progressive rock when I was very young. I became a passionate fan of many of those groups, including Yes. I was fortunate enough to see them in concert 5 times during my formative years. The last time I saw them was in Park City, Utah, and I had a great seat. I have very strong memories from that night. The most striking to me was how much fun the band had playing their music. Jon Anderson actually made that comment in the middle of the show. He said, “I wish all of you could come up here and join us, this is so much fun.” Comically, Chris Squire came on stage at the beginning of the concert with a serious scowl on his face, but after a couple of songs, even he couldn’t hide the joy. What a presence that man had. He was very tall and made his Rickenbacker bass look relatively small. There is no doubt that he was one of the best bassists of all time.

This video shows a live performance of the song Heart of the Sunrise. This iteration of the band does not include Squire, but all the others from that period are there: Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, and Howe. I will never get tired of Jon Anderson’s voice, and it was one that got better with age. When I was young, my ear was attracted to the keyboards and everything Rick Wakeman was doing. Now that I have converted to guitar, I am in awe of Steve Howe. There are many videos of this song, but I like this one the best.

Monster

Very few people can just flat out write great music. Dodie Clark is one of them. There are so many choices when it comes to highlighting Dodie, but this video is one I watch all the time. It also shows how clever and professional Pomplamoose arrangements are, although I suspect that this is just as much a Dodie arrangement. In any case, this is a great collaboration.

I think I first saw Dodie when she popped up on the front page of Reddit. The song was party, which should be on everyone’s Christmas song list. That was enough to send me down the doddleoddle (Dodie’s YouTube channel) rabbit hole. Obviously, she is not a guitarist, but I never promised that this blog would focus on guitar music. That just seemed like a good place to start. No, my intention is to focus on music that inspires me, both as a listener and a composer. Dodie inspires me. She demonstrates a musicality that I think is rare. And she seems like the kind of person anyone should love to hang out with. I would encourage everyone to jump headfirst into that same rabbit hole.

This video shows a production performance of Dodie’s song Monster. I am so impressed with how the song uses both a lot of instruments, then very few. These contrasts in sound throughout this piece give it a musical gravitas. There is also something so endearing about Dodie’s affect. She makes you care about what she is trying to communicate. I have to mention that Nataly Dawn’s voice is very recognizable even though she never sings solo. I love it, she’s amazing too. Sorry Jack, I’ll talk about you in another blog.

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