Music is about to experience a surge not seen since the dawn of the rock 'n' roll era in the mid-'50s. After years of suffering the early challenges of the digital age, music will likely be once again the most popular diversion in the country as downloads and CD purchases jump. Why? Because television is a downer and is in a death spiral.
Much of the tube's fare now consists of Mondo Cane-like programming that dwells on imbeciles, dysfunctional families, smug abusers, sensationalists, creepy clothing designers, diet-strugglers and brain-dead housewives. The news channels used to be a refuge from such fare, but no more. All of the major news channels have grown short on credible journalists and long on junk management. [Pictured above: Housewives of Orange County]
Most on-air talent seems barely able to arrange an intelligent sentence. Reporters believe they're entertainers. And producers think viral YouTube clips of wedding mishaps and dogs biting balloons are news. A New York Times Magazine piece last month on recent blunders by Today Show brass was a jaw-dropper. And coverage of the Boston terrorist bombing and its aftermath exposed the thin rails of information-gathering and editorial judgment. Too much real-time reporting was misleading, inaccurate and shrill—stoking fear rather than offering sober accounts and calm.
Last week we had more irresponsible coverage with the Cleveland kidnapping-imprisonment case. While the horrific crime certainly is news, it's hard to understand why media organizations felt it necessary to flood their coverage with graphic, ghastly details—hour after hour, day after day. Where are the editors? Where is the judgment? Where are the grownups?
This kind of programming takes a toll. A growing number of young adults no longer bother with TV programming or TV news. Instead, they're online, where they can control the media's recklessness by deciding what to ingest for how long. If you ask them why they've bailed on TV, most will tell you they're not interested and don't have time. I used to think this excuse was ignorance, a product of a failed education system. Now I realize it's a sign of healthy minds. Much of the material on TV is way too depraved and depressing for positive thinkers.
All of which is great news for the music business. Music is now the only diversion that offers a healthy refuge from TV's morbid freak show. Music also provides listeners with an uplifting, motivating and optimistic feeling no longer available on TV.
As soon as the web figures out how to make money from online programming, and wider bandwidth boosts the web's speed (the Times reported yesterday that the FCC is already making this happen on flights), television will be old news. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.
Mel and Bing. In the 1960s, Mel Torme appeared on Bing Crosby's TV show to sing a duet on Smack Dab in the Middle. Reader Duane Peirick sent along a link to this clip...
CD discoveries of the week. Pianist Michelle Pollace has a strong commanding presence on New Beginning. Like a baker, she has a way of gently whipping rhythms until they are cohesive and taut. Eight of the 10 songs on the album are originals infused with Latin-jazz rhythms. Pollace (pronounced poh-LAH-chee) digs in on every track, and songs like Forro and Bright Eyes evolve into mini-suites. She even had the courage to take on Over the Rainbow, brilliantly adding imaginative vibrancy to the squeezed-dry standard. Pollace is a daring player whose music is dramatic and alive.
I spent some time last week listening carefully to all of vocalist Beverly Kenney's recordings. They're available on Complete Roost Recordings and Complete Decca Recordings (both Fresh Sound and both two-CD sets). What you hear throughout is Kenney's fearlessness as she goes way out on limbs to tweak melodies. What I also discovered is that her voice was best suited to strings. Kenney's daredevil quality is evident on That's All, with pianist Tony Tamburello (1954) and There Will Never Be Another You (1955), with guitarist Johnny Smith. Albums with Ralph Burns and Jimmy Jones are perfectly fine but her best work was recorded on Sings for Playboys (1957), with Ellis Larkins on piano, and Born to Be Blue (1958), a spectacular strings-and-band session arranged by Hal Mooney. Dig her Again on the latter album. Heart-melting stuff.
Dig the Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel? Then you'll love The Milk Carton Kids. On their new CD The Ash & Clay (Anti), the duo's vocal harmonies are pitch perfect, and their guitar playing is as calming as a lullaby. The Milk Carton Kids are Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan. They do all the composin', singin' and strummin'—making them one of the most remarkable and economical folk-roots bands around. There's a '60s gentleness and intensity about their songs and playing—music that carries the smell of rain and the sound of VW Bug engines. If you're looking for a head-clearing album that's as pretty as a picture, this is it.
I melt when I hear female vocalists who remind me of Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Carly Simon and Laura Nyro. Carey Appel is one of them. Her House of Cards (Dream Wild) packs a brash wallop and benefits greatly from Nashville production. Appel's voice is strong and pure, and her songs are musically enveloping and lyrically meaningful. Sample Wish I'd Been There and Wait and See. Appel doesn't waste any time capturing your heart. More on Appel here.Oddball album cover of the week.
Sil Austin was a black tenor saxophonist who, in the '50s, shifted from jazz to R&B. Like Big Jay McNeely, Austin helped pioneer the tough, honkin' sax sound that eventually became a mainstay on rock singles. Many of Austin's best known records were taken at a stroll tempo—but he could cook, too (see Battle Royale with Red Prysock for Mercury). As for the cover above, I'm not quite sure what dance the couple is doing but it's surely not to the music of Sil Austin.