Some Great Music

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I knew music was a tough business, but this is way out there.

Patrick Powers

Music! It just won't quit! As I was headed to the library to write about today's great music there came over the radio an amazing classical piece. I had to say in the car for a half an hour with the motor running to find out who the composer was. It was Havergal Brian. Who? It turns out that he wrote 32 symphonies. What?!? He wrote 32 symphonies like that, and is so unknown? I knew music was a tough business, but this is way out there. Well, it seems like he had an interesting life.

Then there's First Aid Kit, Johanna and Klara Söderberg, two sisters from Sweden. Man, have they Got It, song interpretations with the sort of melancholy soulful beauty that brings tears to your eyes. Fortunate victims include Paul Simon and Emmylou Harris. They are hardly perfect, but what matters is putting your heart and soul into it. Alison Krauss and Hillary Hahn, are you listening? That string section and pedal steel guitar player aren't too shabby either. They add a great deal in a very subtle, almost subliminal way.

How did this wonderful performance come about? It's run by the Swedish Academy of Music and seems dedicated to breaking down the pernicious "genre" straightjacket. Win, and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden ceremoniously hands you a million kroner. It was all founded by the former manager of ABBA, who evidently wanted to do something for music with his mountain of excess cash. Some of the winners I'd never heard of. Yo ho ho! Could more great music be heaving over the horizon? You bet. Here's winner Renee Fleming in The Palace of the Czars. Nothin' else quite like a slow, slow groove. A master/mistress of dynamics. You will never hear better volume control than that. Then there's the award to Ennio Morricone, which led the ship to this absurd recording from the album Anarchy In The Ukulele. Ooh! Ah! They do a mean Theme From Shaft too. There's a reason it's called playing music.

Coming back from Prizeland there's ebass player Dywane "Mononeon" Thomas, who's got the most original musical conception since Frank Zappa. His style is quite different, though, like some unholy union of Jaco Pastorius with The Residents. I've never heard such complex ebass parts work so well before. He has hundreds of videos on Youtube, some awe inspiring, some not. He's got to learn a chordal instrument if he wants to get far. You can only do so much with an ebass. But he has taken the instrument to regions previously unknown. He’s covered the theme from 1960s cartoon series The Flintstones.

Superbassist Mohini Dey may have done him the honor of covering one of deals. While the serious stuff is very impressive, this collaboration with Pastor James David Manning might be some sort of ultimate in ridiculousness. That guy really does have a TV show. No wonder I am starting to think that "life is but a joke."

So what's Mohoni up to? Reviving fusion, that's what. It got it's start in Yorkshire, the epicenter of UK Pakistaniness. There the young guitarists John McLaughlin and Alan Holdsworth grew up hearing that music and later fused it with rock. Well, now it's going the other way, with Indians doing some fusing of their own with superdrummer Dave Weckl. When I bought my copy, Amazon solicited me to join some scam no fewer than three times. Arrogant scumbags. But it was worth it. The real thing is tons better than the mashed up sound of Youtube. Note that Weckl was not on the same continent as the others. Powa of da Intanet. It's nice to hear fusion without overdriven guitars. Though that can be nice in its own way.

Reader Scott Howard did some research and found the mind-bogglingly complex control system for the pedal steel guitar. Nine pedals, eight levers, and two necks with different tunings and ten strings apiece.  Press the pedals with your feet while nudging a lever with your knee to change chords.  To make sure it isn't too easy, the feet have a volume pedal to deal with too.  Then play slide guitar on top of that.  Insane.

There's more! How about Hickory Wind by Gram Parsons as done by Emmylou Harris. Parsons had a truly bizarre life. Among other things, after wrecking his life and dying young from drug abuse, his body was stolen from the Los Angles Airport. Emmylou knew him well. She has never forgotten. Note that fill that the drummer does starting at 2:04. I've heard it done a thousand times, but never before so well.

All sorts of people, famous and not-so-famous, do this song. Keith Richards, Norah Jones, Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, and many more. I like Hickory Wind by AJ Lee and the Tuttles. I'm not crazy about singer AJ, but the Tuttles are the greatest. That guitar solo is fabulous.

Is there no end to fabulous music in this world? I certainly hope not.

Patrick Powers is a musician and poet, formerly of Bali, now living in northern Michigan.

Copyright © Patrick Powers. All rights reserved.

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