Composer, author, lecturer, guitar teacher

Recent listening

I’ve been enjoying the new Fleet Foxes album ‘Helplessness Blues’ and pleased they did not seek to overhaul their sound too much. This one sits well as a follow-up to the debut album of a few years ago, with more confidence in the arrangements and the recording. Quite apart from the musical trademarks of the songs, it is interesting how reverb plays an important role in their sound, lending ethereality to the signature vocal harmonies. This is noteworthy because for some years many popular recordings have gone for a very dry and airless production. I’ve always preferred something that suggested depth and distance.

I’ve also been listening to some early Elton John. Connecting with my previous post about SACD, I’ve now heard Elton’s Honky Chateau album on SACD and again the sound is a revelation. It’s available on amazon for very little at all. (There is also a Nick Drake SACD compilation that’s unexpectedly good considering that his mixes tend to have relatively few instruments in them, so you would think that they wouldn’t lend themselves to multi-channel.)

For songwriters the thing that strikes me most listening to Elton John again is the vital role that inversions play in his songs. He makes far more use of them than most guitarist songwriters (they’re easier to play on a piano). They occur more frequently in his songs and in a greater number of types. It is surprising how much emotional charge they carry in songs like ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’, ‘Your Song’, ‘Into The Old Man’s Shoes’, and ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight.’ There’s also a feeling with the songs that they have a lot of music in them –  by which I mean they don’t have any of the aura of laziness which I hear in a lot of post-2000 songwriting, where one  short idea is deemed enough to carry most of the song and if you’re lucky you might get an 8-bar bridge.

Also on SACD I can recommend the new Stravinsky SACD of the Rite of Spring and Petrouchka on BIS by the Bergen Philharmonic. Incredible sound that lets you experience the genius of Stravinsky’s orchestrations.

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2 responses

  1. loving your book “Arranging Songs”. noticed you’re a t. rex fan. was track 35 inspired by the arrangement from “by the light of the magical moon”?

    September 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    • Hello Dave, glad you like ‘Arranging Songs’. I would say that the track was inspired generally by late Tyrannosaurus Rex rather than specifically ‘By The Light of A Magical Moon’ but there is a resemblance in the way the lead fills come in (and I played them on a Strat). I’m very fond of the music Marc Bolan made between 1968-72 and then sporadically a few tracks into 1973. I find his ‘woodland bop’ style retains an innocence and enchantment which does not diminish with the passing years, and , despite being an untutored guitarist with an unconscious and relatively limited technical command of the instrument, he played some of my favourite guitar, especially on electric. Look out for a blog soon on Electric Warrior. In future I hope to put up some pages of articles I’ve written about Bolan over the years.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:11 am

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