(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Recording review - Massive Attack, Blue Lines (1991, reissue 2012)

The birth of trip hop is still fresh and relevant

Blue Lines was a seed crystal dropped into a super-saturated British music scene back in 1991. A new band with the unlikely name of Massive Attack first released a couple of singles: the spacy hip hop of "DayDreamer" and then the game-changing "Unfinished Sympathy". Soon, the band's unique mix of down tempo beats, trippy interludes, and introspective soul became the standard bearer for the new genre of trip hop. The slower rhythms provided an open structure where contrasting parts could be juxtaposed into innovative combinations, inspiring a generation of producers. Although it seemed like Massive Attack appeared out of nowhere, they were an outgrowth of Bristol's Wild Bunch soundsystem, who developed the foundation of the style by blending Jamaican dub, electronic grooves, and American hip hop.

Coming into adulthood at 21 years old, Blue Lines shows some age with old school beats, turntable scratching, and lower fidelity samples. But this reissue is not just a history lesson or faded memory; the album still sounds fresh and relevant. Its mashup mix of soulful vocals and dub rhythms continues to be a mainstay in modern pop music and several of the tracks foreshadow the lasting trends that would follow. The lazy, bass-driven funk of "Safe From Harm" could turn up on a recent release without sounding overly dated. The band would continue to develop in this direction, layering ever more complex combinations of soft synth fills over deep, moody riffs and soulful vocals.

Similarly, that early hit, "Unfinished Sympathy" may rely on an older style of rhythm loop, but the string swells and dreamy R&B groove feel timeless. It's easy to see why this did so well on the charts of the day. Turntable scratching and sampling provide a hip hop vibe, while the keys and strings pull the song towards synth pop. The combination has a chilled distance with an undercurrent of nervous tension. Shara Nelson's warm voice cements the two contrasting elements into a compelling track that works as well in the club as with headphones.

Massive Attack would later edge away from the more direct reggae dub feel of tracks like "One Love", but the tune packs a powerful punch. The sparse rhythm is stripped down to its barest essentials, lightly accented with scratching and a light organ riff. It casts a disquieting shadow on the lyrics. In another setting, "It's you I love, and not another/ And I know our love will last forever," might be just a pretty sentiment, but the dark music and Horace Andy's reedy quaver create a sense of menace.

Listening to that menace leads to understanding, both of the album and Massive Attack's name. Bluster is just wasted energy. Better instead to harness the power of inertia, set something big into motion, and watch the momentum bury everything. Just as the universe is dominated by dark matter and dark energy, Blue Lines is filled with a massive, unseen threat. We can only perceive the understated tension and breathless silence that gives each layered part a hefty weight.

The sole respite from the darkness is the cover of William DeVaughn's "Be Thankful for What You Got", which preserves the original's Curtis Mayfield soul sound under a patina of electronic percussion fills. The arrangement follows the same minimalist aesthetic of the other songs, but the more uplifting lyrics and Tony Bryan's warm vocals create an eye of comfort. In a world of conflict and threat, this reflective moment is sweet. Robert "3D" Del Naja later suggested that the song was too soft and retro for the album, but that contrast makes it all the more valuable. "Five Man Army" follows up with a rich 2Tone sound and trade-off raps, easing us back into the rest of Blue Lines' chill groove.

This reissue respects the band's stripped down approach by not tacking on any distractions. There are no remixes or other extra tracks. Aside from some mixing tweaks, the message is clear: "why mess up a good thing?"

(This review originally appeared on Spectrum Culture)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Recording Review - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Heist (2012)

Keeping it real on a positive tip

Almost four short years ago, Seattle rapper Macklemore was just an out of town opener for a pair of local bands in Colorado. Even though he was a solo act with prerecorded beats, he was riveting. He blended humor, tackled serious philosophical dilemmas and showcased his radical honesty. This mix flowed from his 2005 album, The Language of my World, which defined his voice. Willing to address tough questions like cultural appropriation on "White Privilege", Macklemore didn't settle for platitudes or oversimplification. Although his sound was stripped down, his backing tracks sampled some occasionally surprising artists like Chris De Burgh.

Moving forward from those early days, he's partnered with producer Ryan Lewis and built a huge grassroots following. His latest album, The Heist, highlights the tight connection with Lewis and serves as their introduction to a larger audience. Macklemore's raps still hit a sweet spot with shifting rhythmic flow, clever rhymes and heartfelt sincerity, but Lewis brings a pop aesthetic that fine tunes the songs, hitting the perfect accompaniment to emphasize the core messages. As the pair step into national distribution, they bring along a host of fellow Seattle artists as guest collaborators to further round out their sound.

The album starts strong with the title track, which shows what the band is all about: deeply personal lyrics, clever lines to lighten the mood, a solid positive message, a smooth flow that incorporates occasional off-beat rhythmic punches, and a tasteful musical backing. Macklemore's soft-sell ego rap carries a message of perseverance . He lays out his successes, but attributes it to the hard work that got him there. With a confessional tone, he links his own struggles to a universal theme and elevates his rap aspirations to a noble artistic pursuit.
Got an iTunes check, shit, man, I'm payin' rent
'Bout  damn time I moved outta my basement
'Bout damn time I got around the country and I hit these stages
I was made to slay them
10, 000 hours, I'm so damn close, I can taste it
On some Malcolm Gladwell
David Bowie meets Kanye - shit
This is dedication
A life lived for art is never a life wasted
Ten thousand
Meanwhile, Lewis' electro-pop groove contributes to the elevation. The chorus, "10,000 hours felt like 10,000 hands/ 10,000 hands, they carry me," distills the song's message to its purest essence. Later, when the lyrics turn darker and introspective during a breakdown section, the music shifts to a starker beat and piano line.

Continuing the positive tip, The Heist serves up a social action track, "Same Love". Tied to support of Washington State's Referendum 74 to allow same-sex marriage, Macklemore tackles the issue head on with a focus on his own personal connection. Mentioning his gay uncle and his own stereotypical assumptions as a kid, he keeps it lowkey, stating the obvious without getting preachy. It's refreshing that nobody gets a free pass; Macklemore even takes rap music to task: "If I was gay, I would think that hip hop hates me." Still, he offers understanding and a path forward. Lewis shows a subtle hand on his arrangement. The music references Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready", building a gospel feel on the chorus that suits Mary Lambert's soulful voice

Usually, the rapper gets all of the attention while the producer can be taken for granted. Lewis' skillful accentuation means he's hardly flamboyant, but he does get one track to cut loose and take center stage. "BomBom" progresses through a suite of sections, starting with a minimalist piano jam that merges with a punchy dance beat. Blending samples, beats, and original contributions from The Teaching, the mood wanders between jazzy inward reflection and assertive carnival rhythm. Live drums from the band trade off with looped beats. The track mutates with an improvisational feel.

Aside from that one instrumental, The Heist covers all of Macklemore's favorite topics, from his own sobriety to choosing self-dignity over commercialism. At his strongest, like the heavy personal admissions in "Starting Over", he is raw and revealing without histrionics. Even "Jimmy Iovine", a relatively weak track which plays out as a cartoon revenge fantasy against the music industry, offers some humor and smart lines. Throughout it all, Macklemore seems approachable in a way that rappers like Kanye and R. Kelly never could be, largely because his stage persona is less of a mask.

(This review originally appeared on Spectrum Culture)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Diary: Engaging with "Disengage"

In my recent resolutions post, I talked about wanting to record more of my own songs. One of the barriers to that is trying to make everything perfect and fully developed. This song, "Disengage", is my attempt to shift my thinking and just create a simple demo quality song without all the details that might go into a full arrangement. I also forced myself not to sweat the minor flaws and rough mixing. I thought it would be interesting to talk about the song itself and my recording process.

The key riff in "Disengage" is a little chord run I came up with several years ago. It's a song fragment that I've never been able to build into a complete song until now. I kept it around because I loved the descending run, taking a D7 (no 3rd) and stepping the 7th down, note by note. In recent years, I've had trouble working out lyrics until I get the music figured out. As I was noodling a couple of months ago and I came up with the chorus changes, which it motivated me to start thinking about a lyrical theme. Those descending notes suggested regret while the drone D gave it a more objective perspective. The soothing chords of the chorus felt like well-meaning advice.

This combination reminded me of some friends who deal with depression. On the one hand, I sympathize with them, but there's also an element of frustration because I can't seem to help and
every overture is rejected. The words for the first verse grew quickly from this idea. The chorus still seems a little weak to me. The sentiment is a bit too Pollyanna and the words feel too simplistic.

Recording this proved a bit challenging. Singing in the original key hit the lowest end of my vocal range. After taking a couple of shots at it, I decided to start over with a capo, moving the song to E, which is a more nature fit. My voice worked better, but the guitar sounded thin and jangly. This is one of the reasons I really don't like capos. After I recorded the song with the capo, I got the idea of adding a second guitar to emphasize the E chord in the open position, which added some depth.

I taped the main guitar first, along with a click track to keep the tempo constant. I placed the vocals next and added the second guitar as a final track. I dropped the click track when I bounced to a stereo mix. Since I forced myself to get this recorded quickly, I made some snap judgments about the effects that I'd probably change in a final version. The primary guitar is run through a chorus and EQ's to add a little bottom end. That's not bad, but I threw a slightly dirty distortion on the second guitar that I hate now. Keeping that simpler and cleaner would let the parts mesh more smoothly.

I hope this was interesting. I'd be interested in any comments: both about the song and this idea of posting an explanation of my writing and recording process.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Concert review - Reel Big Fish with Pilfers and DanP

12 January 2013 (Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins CO)

My son joined me for this show. We waited in the freezing line outside the Aggie so we could get a good vantage point. Despite the bitter cold outside, the dancing crowd kept it cozy warm inside once the show began. All three bands were on the national tour and that seems to have drawn a good sized crowd, even for the opening acts.

In band mode, Dan Potthast plays with ska punkers MU330 as well as Dan P and the Bricks. On this tour, though, it was just him and his guitar. As a solo act, his set was heavy on acoustic punk and light on chank & skank. This could have set him up for a tough set, but he managed to win over the crowd with a mix of boyish charm, high energy, and humor.

His 20 minute set moved along quickly, with short, mostly funny songs. Between the single joke tunes and self-deprecating stage patter, it felt like a cross between an open mike night and a standup routine. For example, the first verse of "KKK Highway" (from MU330's Ultra Panic") set up the punchline second verse:
I guess they dress up in sheets and they pick up the trash
They should know it when they see it
They get a good look every day in the mirror 
Sure, targeting racists and homophobes (as in "Don't Say Gay") were easy crowd-pleasers here in Ft. Collins, but his earnest attitude and geek style just clicked. In many ways, Potthast was the opposite of Reel Big Fish's Aaron Barrett: cheery, sincere, and optimistic.

If you know your ska history, you're familiar with the Jamaican first wave, the 2 Tone second wave, and the punk/alt-rock third wave. Fans and critics argue about fourth wave ska, debating whether it exists or what the sonic definition will be. Pilfers' set was a strong argument that they're at that leading edge. Starting with a punk/ska-core foundation, they extended the sound with hip hop attitude and stage style as well as a strong element of headbanging metal. 

Front man Coolie Ranx was a monster. He owned the stage with an animal charisma, trading heavily on hip hop stagecraft. He stalked the stage like a lion, goading the band one moment, then turning to confront the crowd. He taught us our cues to participate: "Elevation!" to pogo dance or "Wipers!" for arm waving. This engagement took the easy going party of the first set and channeled it into a visceral tribal feel, uniting the audience.

In another page from the hip hop manual, touring trombonist Billy Kottage tag-teamed Ranx, acting as hype man. Their twin delivery, with Kottage emphasizing Ranx' lines, kicked up the energy and whipsawed the stage flow.

They started off with an older track, "Chawalaleng". The guitar started too low in the mix, but the bass heavy groove gave the song momentum. While the dark grind of the melody snaked around, Ranx tossed out comments with a speedy toasting rhythm. Kottage's trombone added the perfect fills. The audience joined with the chanted chorus. They followed up with a more classic ska jam to chill the mood, then Ranx started working the crowd.

He walked us through our parts for "Yakuza", explaining our lines and cues. Then band kicked into the punk thrash of the tune. Along the way, Nick Bacon's guitar shred led the song back and forth between punk and metal, setting the mood for the following songs. The ska beat would slide in and out depending on how hard the band pushed it, but Ranx' coiled tension was a constant challenge, urging us on.

Reel Big Fish did their best to assure that nothing has changed since their heyday in the late '90s. Aaron Barrett's sly sarcasm, the whip-smart arrangements, great musical chops, and an irreverent attitude -- all the standard ingredients of a Reel Big Fish show were there. The setlist included a lot of songs from last year's Candy Coated Fury (review here), which meshed perfectly with the classic older material. Everybody at the show must already have the new album because they happily sang along when the band opened with "Everyone Else is an Asshole". In fact, as dedicated fans, the crowd joined in on every song.

The band fed off that energy and delivered a fantastic performance. Barrett, trombone player Dan Regan, and Matt Appleton on sax provided most of the patter and direct interaction, but the whole band was disciplined, zipping from song to song. It's paradoxical, a kind of organized anarchy. They maintained a tight sound that followed the studio arrangements, but the stage show felt very loose. The clowning was fairly choreographed, but like the Three Stooges, Reel Big Fish had great comedic timing and a dedication to getting the laughs.

Much of the humor was already there in the songs. "I Know You Too Well To Like You Anymore", "She Has a Girlfriend Now", "Your Guts (I Hate 'em)": the band plowed through the songs with venomous joy and the occasional snarky aside. Even on a more sincere cut, like the upbeat "Good Thing", Barrett acknowledged, "That song was the nicest song I ever wrote...I was in a good mood one time. For a minute and I wrote a song. Anyway, here's another mean song."

Regan and Barrett in particular had great chemistry here. On "Where Have You Been", Barrett danced around with his guitar during the break while Regan worked Barrett's wah-wah pedal. Near the end, the song shifted into a head cutting session between the guitar and the trombone. After Barrett shredded out a wicked solo, Regan responded with a trombone version of "The Imperial Death March" from Star Wars to win the contest.

They also had fun with a bait-and-switch set up. They announced that the next tune would be about their favorite beverage. They launched into "Tequila" , with Barrett vocally covering the bridge horn line before giving it up. Then they tried "Red Red Wine" and "Margaritaville" before settling into "Beer" from Turn the Radio Off.

The funniest moment came during the encore. Their Madness-inspired ska jam "Don't Stop Skankin'" morphed into "S.R.", an early track decrying the break up of fellow ska band Suburban Rhythm. When the song wrapped up, they asked everybody to stop skankin', "Just for a minute. Take it easy...but don't stop circle spinning." Then they immediately whipped through "S.R." again, this time as a punk song. They used similar segues to shift into disco, country, and death metal. They finished with, "Don't stop clapping." They closed out the encore with a speedy, ironic cover of A-ha's "Take on Me".

More photos on my Flickr

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Recording review - MTHDS, Pretty Deep (2012)

Serious fun from Front Range favorites

MTHDS, those eclectic Colorado kids, have a new followup to their last full length album the methods (2009). Using that as a beachhead, Pretty Deep offers a similar mix of serious tracks and party tunes with an emphasis on rap vocals. On opening track "Influences", the band explains the basis of their sound:
Check it: music influences
Who's this? The newest kids
Movin, we threw in
A new styles, the fusion news
To combine punk, blues 'n soul
We just tried to line the new with old
Then, as they name check an iPod shuffle list of disparate artists, the laid back funk groove propels the song forward. MTHDS have a real knack for this fusion-style of hip hop, striking a balance between vocal flow and instrumental chops. That depth allows for some surprising transitions in the track as the chorus hits a punchy break and suddenly veers into a big rock interlude. The band also takes advantage of their connections in the musical community, inviting Chali 2na (Jurassic 5) to lend his rich bass voice to the track. His smoothly skipping delivery offers a nice contrast to the track.

The band doesn't unchain their party animal until "Ooh La La". The smart ass lyrics riff on a theme of shallow popularity like a snide cynic lurking in the VIP room while the band plays a jazzy danceable melody:
I want to make tracks that reach the masses
Make fat stacks while they shake their asses
Say lewd shit about havin' sex
And make music for bachelorettes
Chip Chipouras' bassline is particularly tasty. The band does a great job extending the music into a jam feast, which both offsets the snarky attitude in the vocals and casts them in a more venal light. The rowdier feel continues with a sweet Latin romp on "Bailando" and bro anthem of "Partay".

Just as the methods revived "Riot" and "Wicked Style" from their first EP, Music That Heightens Different Senses (2007), MTHDS reach back again to that album's "Time to Ride". For Pretty Deep, they radically rework it into "Time 2 Ride", retaining the ski bum manifesto theme but trading the bouncy, stoner funk vibe for a SoCal pop punk groove. The chorus remains recognizable despite the mutation, but the verses are completely different, with a hint of Beastie Boys rhythm.

The album closes by turning back to the serious side for the last three songs. Of these "Stand Down" is my favorite. The social commentary and big chorus feel a bit like the Flobots; they're only missing Mackenzie Robert's spirited viola. These three pieces work well together, though, completing an arc for the album that works well with auto repeat. When the album loops, it converts Pretty Deep from a party sandwich to a flipping coin, but either way the MTHDS take advantage of their musical diversity.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Music news - Not quite his "Golden Years"

David Bowie makes his own rules. After reinventing himself countless times -- glam Monster, blue-eyed soul man, rave channeler, character actor -- he seemed to be on track for retirement. But turning the tables again, he chose to celebrate his birthday this year by offering his own gift: announcing his first new album in 10 years paired with a video of the first single. The new album, The Next Day, is due in March.

"Where Are We Now?" mixes elements of Bowie's pop-soul sound with Berlin-era synthesizer touches, in a lush arrangement . His casual, detached vocals give the track a blurry haze of nostalgic melancholy. The tentative, emotional feel shows another side of Bowie. Vulnerable, he seems to recognize that his relevance is not guaranteed.

Tony Oursler's odd little video positions the track to match that reflective mood. With silent film clips projected on a screen, the focus is an odd conjoined doll with Bowie's face mapped onto one head and his wife Iman on the other. Bowie's lyrics focus on his time in Berlin as well as the city's postwar history, providing a virtual tour of remembered places. The relaxed flow gives the song a movie soundtrack quality; just as Oursler matches it with vintage shots of Berlin, it could accent almost any wistful memory montage.

The uplifting finish is a promise, "as long as there's me, as long as there's you." It's a well-played, low-key card. As long as we're all here, Bowie will still find a voice to fit the times.

Recording review - Dad Punchers, Dad Punchers (2012)

Bummer punk comes of age

I nominate emo-core as the official soundtrack for being 15 years old. It's an age packed with contradictions: vulnerability and rage, fatalism and rebellion, maturity and an ache for simplicity. The style's confessional lyrics, wild dynamic swings, and cathartic grind reflect that teenage turmoil. And even though I'm well past 15, this kind of music still speaks to me. Like my teen self, I still wonder sometimes what the point is and why do I need to care so damn much.

Dad Punchers' self-titled debut mind melds with my inner 15 year old.  They may call their genre "bummer punk," but it's a potent blend of emo-core and pop punk. Elliot Babin, drummer for Touché Amoré, started the band as a side project, bringing in bass player Matt Ebert to fill out the sound. Babin's voice is perfect, shifting from emotionally drained weakness to self-righteous frustration to fit the moment. On tracks like "Redwoods", his raw vocals convey a remarkably deep sense of need, craving validation against the staccato drive of the song. Then his defiant chorus on the next track, "E. Coli", matches the thrashy guitar energy: "Let your empires burn/ Learn to live and learn."

But the real gems on Dad Punchers are the more thoughtful tunes that show a greater maturity. "Post-coital Tristesse" may start whimsically:
I've found a new home
Between her neck and her collarbone
And I've hung my photos
From the earlobes
But the mix of surprised joy and gratitude recalls Dramarama's "Incredible". Both songs ache with love, but shine a light on the outward signs of dysfunction. Babin wraps up his analogy accepting all the downsides of the relationship: "We've got a broken A/C/ The hinges, they creak/ And I continue to sign the lease."

Similarly nuanced, "Cul de sac" shows a grown up perspective on passing through life's milestones:
The time when the house you grew up in
Is referred to as your parent's house again
A sense of nostalgic loss pervades the tune. The music is gentle and delicate against the simple lyrics, yielding a pained beauty. The song builds up to a cathartic wash before resolving back to sing about when you inherit your parent's house. The song makes its point with understated clarity.

Ringing guitars balanced by softer insights, this is what 15 is really like. Pounding a drum one minute and missing the simplicity of childhood the next, Dad Punchers understand the tumult and share it well. At 23 minutes, the album qualifies more as an EP, but it's a tasty morsel.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Recording review - Jack White, Blunderbuss (2012)

Scattershot collection finds a flow into darkness

Jack White fancies himself an enigma, building a gloom-obsessed stage persona that contrasts with his matter-of-fact attitude during interviews. At his best, he plays testicular, retro rock ‘n’ roll with a wicked edge of discord, even as he waxes eloquently on the simple beauty of roots music. He’s polished this contradictory image so long, that it’s become predictable. But White overcomes this pretentious posing with strong chops and a distinctive creative sense.

Blunderbuss counts as his first official solo album, but three successful bands (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather) and extensive production experience provided plenty of preparation. In a risky move, he's crammed in a little bit of everything he loves. The net effect is a cracked mirror reflection of White's musical personality; bluesy rock, classic rock 'n' roll, folk turns, mild psychedelia, and theatrical artifice each find moments in the spotlight. In the hands of a lesser artist, this scattershot collection would collapse into a muddle, but his producer's ear serves him well. He smooths the stylistic shifts and creates a coherent flow. That's particularly impressive given that the line up changes on each track, drawing players from a pool of studio musicians.

Led Zeppelin's classic sound continues to provide inspiration for White's vocals and many of the arrangements, from the hard driving "Sixteen Saltines" to the paisley folk rock of "Blunderbuss". But the path he takes to get from one to the other is all his own. The two tracks in between, "Freedom At 21" and "Love Interruption", toss out a "Seven Nation Army" style riff and soulful fatalism respectively, but each transition makes perfect sense.

The latter half of Blunderbuss is assembled in matched pairs of songs, which changes the dynamic from the first five tracks. The two weaker pairs are the piano-heavy tracks that feel overly melodramatic and the folky tunes, which need more of an edge. These are more than balanced by the solid cover of Little Willie John's "I'm Shakin'" and the honky tonk blues rock of "Trash Tongue Talker".

The album closes out on a dreamy note with "Take Me With You When You Go". The first half of the track sways with a mellow violin and organ that recall the lazy San Francisco jams of It's a Beautiful Day. The chill vibe seems a little out of character for White, but with a sucker punch transition, it shifts into a frantic Led Zepplin III sound. The relaxed drift is gone and song sprints forward. White ties the two halves together in neat package to close out the song.

Compared to the stripped down power of the White Stripes, Blunderbuss is lush and layered, but it taps into the same raw imagery that White favors. His relationship metaphors are invariably tied to cruelty and betrayal, whether it's the idea that love should "walk right up and bite me/ grab a hold of me and fight me" or the woman who "cut off the bottoms of my feet, made me walk on salt." Looking into that darkness, his music continues to find catharsis.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Commentary: New Year's resolutions

New Year's resolutions suck. At least the normal ones do: start a diet, exercise more, take up yoga. It's bad enough that those are all boring, but it's worse because, despite all the vaguely good intentions, those habits are hard to form and we forget them by February. If these were really important to us, we wouldn't wait for January 1 to get started.

So, I want to focus on what's already important to me and remind myself (and all of you).

Listen to as much new music as possible
I started writing this blog to keep track of the music I encountered. As it's gotten bigger, I get piles of unsolicited tunes from bands and music PR groups. Maybe I'll take it for granted someday, but so far, it's like everyday is my birthday and people knew just what to get me. There's a magic where some band I've never heard of might become a new favorite, like Lee Baines III and the Glory Fires or Anywhere. Some people will say that trying new things keeps you young, but that's not it; trying new things keeps you alive.

Don't forget to listen to some old favorites
Sometimes I need to remind myself about this one. I'll wonder, "When did I last listen to Joan Armatrading or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot?" Going back refreshes my sonic palate and keeps the review hobby from becoming a chore. It's also cleansing in a way, providing a rewind to touchstone moments in my life that relate to the music. Plus, there are still nuances to pick up.

Appreciate live music
This fall, I slacked off a bit, but I've already got a couple of shows lined up (Reel Big Fish and El Ten Eleven). Just like fresh draft beer, live performance reminds me that there's a power in immediacy. It may not be as polished as the studio, but the spark of watching a tight band mesh together is a beautiful thing.

Remember the local music scene
I get excited to see national acts come through, but it's important to stay up on local bands. Sometimes, I find them as opening acts; other times our paths just happen to cross. From the Afro-beat jams of Atomga to the pop punk energy of Convalescents, Colorado offers countless great bands across all genres. I bet your scene has the same kind of diversity if you look. Supporting local music and arts is an important part of building your community. Plus, it's always cool to be able to say that you saw Big Head Todd, Pretty Lights, or the Flobots before anyone knew who they were.

Perform in public
I don't write as much about my own performances, but this is an incredibly important part of musical world. Whether I'm sharing a new song with a small crowd or pulling out my interpretation of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" for a packed barroom, I love the energy flow of playing for people. Solo sets are nice, but it's even better to connect with other musicians and see where the song leads. Now that my teen aged son has been sitting in with me, it's also a way to forge a deeper link that's based on mutual respect and communication.

Keep writingI started this blog four years ago and every review that I've written has made me better at communication. Forcing myself to think about the music I'm listening to adds to my depth of appreciation. This fall, I started writing for Spectrum Culture, which has been a challenge. It's been difficult to maintain Jester Jay Music while meeting the deadlines of writing for Spectrum Culture. Getting real editorial feedback, though, has been invaluable. Now, if I can figure out how to get paid...

Final thoughts
If I were going to indulge in resolutions for change, I can think of two things I ought to do. The first is to be more opinionated. My writing style has nurtured a more objective perspective, but I'd like to worry less about descriptions of how a band sounds and focus more on how they make me feel.

The other thing I'd like to do is get more of my music recorded and share it here. Whether it's home recorded solo demos or getting my band into the studio, it would be nice to get more songs out there.

Thanks for hanging with me. As always, I thrive on comments and feedback. Happy New Year.

- Jester