February 22, 2008

Yes, Depression

I received my new issue of No Depression magazine the other day, and like I always do, I leafed through it checking to see what musicians were interviewed and what albums were reviewed. What I missed and found later was this note from the publisher:

Dear Friends:
Barring the intercession of unknown angels, you hold in your hands the next-to-the-last edition of No Depression we will publish. It is difficult even to type those words, so please know that we have not come lightly to this decision.

For those not familiar with the music magazine, let me explain: For 13 years No Depression has won acclaim for its coverage of the alt-country, country, Americana music scenes. Their cover subjects have ranged from Gillian Welch to Elvis Costello to Drive-By Truckers. They also did not succumb to glossing themselves up (like Paste magazine, which has turned itself into the GQ of music magazines), instead opting for solid reporting and filling a well-loved niche.
But now, despite a solid readership base, advertising revenue is shrinking and dying because of the collapse of the corporate music industry. It's a hard fact to stomach that as it becomes easier to access music through downloadable and DIY albums, that it would help destroy things we love -- like No Depression. While the publisher says they will try to continue an online presence, I'm pretty sure it won't be the same or have the same impact to me.
It all boils down to one less voice heard for deserving musicians. No Depression? Not for me.

February 7, 2008

Issue No. 19, February 2008

Guitar Heroes!! - Saving the World
With a Single Lick
(A Modern Acoustic Readers' Poll)

When we were kids growing up in the ’70s guitar-based rock was king. Bands like the Allman Brothers, Little Feat and Led Zeppelin fist-pumplingly ruled; we spent our money to see blues greats John Mayall and Albert King; and there was nothing better than the ripping, rocking guitar duel between Eric Clapton and Duane Allman on “Why Does Love Got to be So Sad.’’
By the ’80s, the guitar-god sound were all but history, replaced by the jangly rhythms of R.E.M. and then the grungy, layered guitar of Nirvana and Pearl Jam in the ’90s.
Despite the demise of the grandiose – if not self-indulgent – solo, we haven’t lost our love for a great guitar break. But we also appreciate the quieter, more tasteful licks that complement rather than carry a song. We’re just as happy hearing a great backing banjo as a screaming solo. Maybe our ears are getting older, or maybe we have refined our understanding of what skillful guitar playing is.
With this comes a new type of guitar hero: He or she may not leap tall buildings in a single bound or stop a bullet in their teeth, but they will always be there to save the day – by adding the perfect delicate lick or knocking out a short, nasty solo that strikes an emotional chord inside us.
We’ve been bombarded by the likes of Rolling Stone magazine and others with their lists of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” Those lists always start, as they should, with Hendrix, Clapton, Page, Allman, Vaughan, etc., and fill out with other great blasters of the past. But they rarely acknowledge the many guitarists who, while they may not deliver the firepower, have the musical heart and soul.
So we asked our readers to put aside the guitar gods — alive and dead — and tell us which guitarists today make them stop and take notice when they play?
We think you’ll find the list fascinating: Some you’ll recognize immediately, some you won’t; some are solo artists, some play backup to singer-songwriters. All are accomplished players with something great to offer. The list cuts across many genres of music from rock to world beat, inspiring us to stretch beyond our musical borders.
So thanks to all for taking part. We’ve gotten to hear a lot of great guitarists we didn’t even know about.
Now, if we can only get that “Layla” solo out of our heads…
To download the new issue, click HERE
Also, to read reviews of new albums by up-and-comer Thao Nguyen and an all-women tribute album to Neil Young, click HERE

MA 5- Songs
Songs that helped us survive this issue.
1. “Beat (Health, Life and Fire),” “We Brave Bee Stings and All,’’ Thao Nguyen. Energetic and fun.
2. “My Winding Wheel,” “Heartbreaker,” Ryan Adams. He’s got that alt-country thing down pat.
3. “On the Radio” “Fidelity,” Regina Spektor. Her eclectic songs are incredibly catchy.
4. “Stay on the Ride,” “Children Running Through,” Patty Griffin. Listening again to the whole album, and this song is a standout.
5. “To the Dogs or Whoever,” “The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter,” Josh Ritter. Bolstered by an exuberant appearance on Letterman.

Hey 'Shell, You Know It's Kind of Funny...

I recently caught Michelle Shocked playing at Club Passim in Cambridge. As I stated earlier in this space, I go a long way back with Michelle and have followed her faithfully through her many phases -- folk, jazzy swing, country, rock. But her gospel phase is tougher to take, and it's not because of the music. It's the constant proseletizing and asking the audience to join in on every chorus like she's a preacher. I wanted to shout, "We're paying YOU to sing, not us!" But the music was great; her band was top-notch with longtime cohort Rich Armstrong on trumpet, bass, harmonica, etc., keyboard player Reggie Royal, who has a very nice voice, and (I'm saving the best for last) Erin McKeown on guitar.
And though Erin seemed like a fish out of water as far as the religious aspect of the night, her guitar playing was great. It was clear she was new to the music, trying to find her spots to shine. But you have to give her credit for putting herself out there in a new situation.
A review in the Boston Globe really sums up the show the best, so click HERE to read it.
Also, I took a couple of video clips at the show. Below is one; for the other click HERE