Music journalism is becoming icy. Like "downloads," "rips," "burns" and all of the other words that once meant horrible things but now are used in a positive context to describe how music is copied and transported, the music media tends to operate in spheres of reverse logic. Too often today, print and TV devote way too much time to chasing after the next hot thing or focusing on artists who have a miraculous gift for hype. In both cases, we learn little about who these people are deep down and why they are distinct. [Above, Alvin Coburn, Vortograph, 1917]
Left behind are artists who are doing interesting things that can't be measured in download sales, scandal and concert revenue. Once upon a time, the music media helped us get to know artists who were changing the direction of music. For example, CBS Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes focused on musicians who had interesting personalities and back-stories, or were special for reasons that went unnoticed. In other words, they helped us understand artists who were worthy of a closer look—for no other reason other than they were worthy and interesting. [Above, Frank Zappa and his parents, Life]
Personally, I'm lucky that the Wall Street Journal allows me to try and do just that. I pitch people who interest me, and then I'm encouraged by smart editors to provide readers with a feel for who these people are deep down—whether it's Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis or Gerald Wilson, Berry Gordy and Burt Bacharach. But it's not about me. My goal, always, is to bring the reader along and let them experience artists who matter by entering their comfort zones. [Above, Martin Parr, from the series British Food, 1995]
Granted, we are more technologically advanced today than ever before, and readers may have much shorter attention spans than in the past. But at the end of the day, as a culture, the artists who are covered by the media should be those who create art that makes us aware of life's special qualities, not those who are just new or those who are outrageous. The media's job is to bring true artists to life, regardless of their bank accounts, and take us along for the ride. Only then do we learn a little bit more about life and outselves. [Above, Lydia Hearst by Elias Wessel, 2010]
Joe Byrd (1933-2012), a bassist who frequently played with his brother—guitarist Charlie Byrd—died on March 6 from injuries suffered in a car accident. He was 78. Weeks earlier, Bret Primack spoke with him about his life in music in this video clip...
CD discoveries of the week. I love albums that leap out of the gate and run like hell for the wire. On Taurey Butler (Justin Time), pianist Taurey Butler rips into The Lady Is a Tramp, The Preacher and Please Send Me Someone to Love. On the mellow side, he serves up Moonlight in Vermont and Emily. Each song receives a good hard spin. This, from an artist who graduated from Dartmouth with a degree in electrical engineering and has Japanese studies under his belt. Butler is joined here by Eric Lagace on bass and Wali Muhammed on drums. Even Butler's originals swing. Think Oscar Peterson meets Hampton Hawes. Sample An Afternoon Downtown.
As readers know, I have a terrible crush on C'est Si Bon. Can't get enough of it. Which makes me something of a connoisseur. A perfect rendition transports me to Paris, bad ones to the mall. The secret is how much French a singer knows and how gingerly seductive they can put it over. On Heart Felt, singer Halie Loren nails the Henri Betti and André Hornez tune. In fact, Loren is brilliant on virtually everything she touches here. Her Waiting in Vain is pure genius and takes you back to the great female singer-songwriter voices of the late '60s and early '70s. The same goes for her own A Woman's Way. Loren is plenty strong on the straight stuff, too, like My One and Only Love and All of Me. Tasteful, grown-up singers like Loren give me hope, since I'm notoriously hard on vocal albums. There's also a superb backup band here, particularly pianist Matt Treder. Sample Taking a Chance on Love. She and I both know she owns a few Jo Stafford albums.
Bill Medley had a classic blue-eyed soul voice back in the '60s. Like David Clayton-Thomas, Gary Puckett and Jay Black, Medley had a ruddy masculine sound that also was vulnerable and wistful. You know him best as half the Righteous Brothers (You've Lost That Loving Feeling, etc.). But Medley also had a formidable solo career, recording Bill Medley 100% (1968) and Soft and Soulful (1969). Both are now on one CD from Real Gone Music. Medley's appeal was a Mack truck delivery without the trembling Tom Jones-Engelbert Humperdinck vibrato. He also was best on big-build ballads that reached a roundhouse crescendo. These include Run to My Loving Arms, 100 Years and For Your Precious Love. His love for Ray Charles is evident on That's Life and Let the Good Times Roll. I love this guy! Dig Going Out of My Head and Any Day Now. Makes you want to tool around in a burnt orange AMC Javelin.
Oddball album cover of the week. Once again, we travel back in time to an era when women were wives or sides of beef. Somehow, this album seems to be glamorizing the vocation of a private assistant who works seven days a week—two of them tending to the hotel-room needs of her boss, married or single. And there's that cellophane gift basket again—the male token of romantic appreciation. I wonder whether her boss had her order it for herself?