Saturday, August 19, 2006

Old Crow Medicine Show

I think it is high time for some new music, don't you? And no, I don't mean nickleback, I'm talking about a band keeping that ol' time appalacian sound alive, Old Crow Medicine Show.

These guys were discovered by the legendary Doc Watson while busking outside of a pharamacy, and have been rocketing skyward ever since. While not exactly virtuoso musicians, they are plenty good enough to play bluegrass, which is not an easy style to play. What they bring that makes them so unique is their age. These are young guys who should be playing at being rock stars, but you can tell in every single note how much they love the old sounds. You get all the old classics, from CC Rider to Hesitation Blues, and also some new stuff, such as the incredably wonderful Wagon Wheel, which grew from some fragments on an old Dylan bootleg.

Generally I ramble on and on about bands I love, but there really isnt too terribly much to say about these guys, as their story is just beginning. The album I uploaded is their live album, which is really the only way to listen to bluegrass. Generally, they are the first thing I go to when someone says "I hate country". Enjoy!


Mississippi John Hurt

Chances are that, unless you are seriously into folk music, you have never heard of this absolutely wonderful musician.

When you hear about the rock and roll lifestyle, you often wonder, is this what fame and money does to a man? Excess and childish behavior seem to go hand in hand with the music industry, to the point where nine times out of ten, successful musicians dont even survive their success. The story of John Hurt shows that this does not need to be the case.

John was born down south around 1900, spent most of his life as a farmhand, working brutal jobs for next to no money. As a young man, he recorded a few albums, but the gentle artistry of his playing and singing were not appreciated at the time, when blues was what rock is nowadays; raukus, rowdy, and something to dance to. By contrast, John's style was gentle in every way, his voice being perfectly complemented by his subltle fingerstyle technique. So as one would expect, he quickly faded into obscurity, and instead of becomming a successful musician, he went back down south and continued working on farms most of his life.

Then the 60s folk revival happened.

Suddenly, there was a huge interest in obscure, old music. John's early recordings on Okeh records made him a great name to drop for one to seem "in the know". A folk historian did some research, and found him at the age of 70, weary of a life of back breaking labour, and not having played proffessionally for about 35 years.

Suddenly, John was a star, performing for hundreds of people, and making more money then he could have ever dreamed. Yet somehow he kept a level head, and had nothing but gratitude, not so much for the money and fame, but more that his music was so widely appreciated. He inspired a whole generation of young fingerpickers, and one simply cannot talk about the 60s New York folk scene without mentioning his name.

John Hurt was truely one of the fingerstyle masters. He was of the "never play it the same way twice" persuasion, but his variations were so subtle, it leaves you with the impression of his playing being full of character rather then being impressed with virtuosity. He could do entire songs inside one chord, and have them as full of life and variation as your typical 500 chord jazz song. His style of the blues was also quite unique, all the emotional and musical honesty that you expect from great blues, yet without the edge that usually goes with a Son House or Muddy Waters tune. Now, don't get me wrong, I love a song with some bite to it, but that is hardly a rare and unique thing. This is.

Dave Van Ronk tells a story about John that really sums up the mans incredable character. John Hurt never had a bad word to say about anyone, he was simply the nicest man you could ever meet. There was one time where someone he thought was a friend screwed him out of alot of money, and all of Johns friends were absolutely furious. Dave was pacing and cursing up a blue streak, not only because John was a friend who got shafted, but also because him of all people really didnt diserve it. After going at it for a good ten minutes, he turned to John and asked, "Don't you have anything to say about this guy?". John simply smiled, and said "Well.... if it wasnt for him, I would still be picking cotton down in Mississppi".


Monday, August 14, 2006

Dave Van Ronk: The Mayor of MacDougle Street

It is incredable how so many people can speak of the 60s folk revival, and drop names like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell, etc and not mention one of the cornerstones of the whole thing, Dave Van Ronk.

It's one of the tragedies of my life that I found his music literally months after he died. It only compounded the tragedy to find out he not only toured his whole life, but was in Montreal (my home town) pretty much every year for the Jazz Festival. I now have most of his works, and still, every now and then I run accross something that makes me look at the man in a different light. Lets see, theres Inside Dave Van Ronk, and Dave Van Ronk: The Folkways Years that show an absolutely incredable folk artist. His rendition of Samson and Delilah is beyond stellar, and he has hands down the best Cocaine Blues I have ever heard. Theres Dave Van Ronk and the Ragtime Jug Stompers, which is (go figure) him with a ragtime jug band (for those who don't know, ragtime is this wonderful happy-go-lucky offshoot of the blues that was quite popular for a time in the 20s and 30s). Then theres In The Tradition, which is Dave with the Red Onion Jazz Band. Then you have Dave Van Ronk and the Hudson Dusters which is Dave with a rock band. And last but not least, the absolute bevy of albums with Dave, solo on his guitar, doing fingerstyle arrangements of Jazz songs. In each of these variations and permutations he brings his distinctive and powerful voice, not to mention unique enthusiasm, to create some of my favorite music. If I had to choose my five favorite artists, he would be one I wouldnt think twice about naming.

While his voice is certainly enough to make the man worth checking out, it is his guitar technique which will keep you comming back for more. For those who don't know, fingerstyle means picking out leads with your fingers, while your thumb backs you up on the bass strings. Its an absolutely wonderful way of playing, simply because it is so versitile. Jazz is quite a complex form of music, many instraments doing quite a bit, but Dave was able to successfully arrange songs so that it sounds just wonderful, even though he's just one guy. This is also the way one plays classical on the guitar, if you can arrange mozart on a single guitar, you can do pretty much anything. Dave however has more a backwoods style, using only three fingers instead of four, which is closer to banjo style then classical guitar. However, he was so damn good, three fingers is more then enough. As someone just learning, listening to something like The Entertainer on this album is enough to make you cry.

It would be an injustice to talk about Dave without mentioning his profound impact on music. Bob Dylan is probably the most influential musician of our time, and while he comes directly from Woody, Dave was his first mentor in new york, getting him his first gigs at the Gaslight Cafe, which was one of the more prestigious venues of the New York folk scene. Joni Mitchell was another one of his proteges, as was Phil Ochs, the real king of protest music (Dylan never was, and never wanted to be, but thats a topic for another blog... or two).

Somebody Else, Not Me is one of my favorite albums. Michigan Water Blues is absolutely hilarious. Somebody Else, Not Me is Dave at his finest, the man's delivery is beyond reproach. The Entertainer is one of the best arrangements I've heard of the song. Theres a decent cover of Pastures of Plenty by Woody Guthrie near the end of the album, and the last track is a quite good cover of Song to Woody by Dylan. If you like this album, I highly recommend his last show (released as ...and the Tin Pan bended, and the story ended... published by Smithsonian/Folkways), and theres a wonderful Stephen Grossman DVD called Dave Van Ronk, In Concert at the Bottom Line.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bob Brozman: King of the Slide

I love the sound of the slide guitar, I always have, and probably always will. There is something truly primal and visceral about it, that has nothing to do with purity of tone, the hallmark of classical and popular western music. The slide is dirty, inprecise, and mimics the tonal attributes of the human voice. In other words, perfect for the blues.

Now, I love the old masters like Son House, Tampa Red, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, etc. I also love the new masters, like Eric Clapton or the Allman Brothers (although the electric blues will never be what the acoustic blues are for me). Let me say, technique wise, Bob Brozman blows them all out of the water. He plays in half a dozen tunings on his National guitar with the bottleneck he made as a child of 13. He realised many years ago that all the good music happened on the frontiers of colonialism, so he not only plays the old African American blues, but he is a master of the laptop dobro style, Hawaiian style, African style, and of all things, Okinawaan style (don't worry though folks, this album is just blues).

I bought his complete instructional series on the bottleneck blues (published on homespun tapes). Apart from some of the best slide instruction I've run accross, one thing he said really stuck with me. He says that the obsession with purity of tone and vocal timber that you see in North American popular music comes directly from europe. He calls this the "Classical Burden". For those who don't know, classical is by far the hardest style to play on any instrament. It takes decades to be good and its all about technique and precision, improvisation and grit being totally and completely not allowed. That isn't nessicarily a bad thing, but it is far from the be all and end all of music. In fact, the european classical tradition is the only one I can even think of where that applies. Go anywhere else in the world, and it is the exact opposit (in his words "Listen to some howlin' wolf, his voice sounds like boulders running down a mountain of sandpaper"). In the African tradition, they believe adding grit upps the emotional intensity (for example, they often put bottle caps in the resonator of their marimbas, an African folk instrament). They believe that technique and precision is great, but it is emotion that a musician should strive for.

Just guess where I stand.

So, listen and enjoy. There are no passwords yet, and if you guys would perfer I use rapidshare or something else, just let me know. I'm kinda new to this whole thing, so comments are definately appreciated.

I will leave you with what he tells new guitarists " That way is down, that way is up, you are never more then a two frets away from a good note, and if it sounds good to your ears, its good music, and never let anyone tell you any different. Music is about enjoyment, which is why in every language I've run accross its "Play music", not "Work music""


Friday, August 11, 2006


Welcome to Fourth String, Third Fret. For those of you who have no idea what this means, it is the "blue note" on open G tuning, which is a very common blues tuning. The blues being the backbone of 90% of popular music, and the blue note being the backbone of the blues, make this (imho) an apt title for a music blog. I have, to put it mildly, an eclectic taste in music. So expect blues, ragtime, jazz, indie (the real stuff), and whatever i happen to be into at the moment. And remember, if you really love the music then buy the album.