A second blog post in the month of May!

It’s a procrastinating miracle – this is the second post for the month of May! I returned home from the best conference ever (that happens in one of the best towns ever) on Saturday night. I had entertained the thought of not attending the International Country Music Conference in Nashville because, well, because I’m lazy, and I didn’t want to write the paper (which just so happened to be a section from a dissertation chapter that *really* needed to be written). The thought of seeing some of my favorite people was a strong motivator, and I made the good (and good-for-me decision) to suck it up, write the section/put together a presentation, and I headed up to Nashville last Wednesday.


The conference was (as usual) a great experience: I got to see and catch up with some of my academic idols, favorite scholars, and smart friends; I was inspired by some really great research and presentations; I met new, interesting, smart folks; and I got some feedback on my presentation that was helpful and encouraging. I’m very, very, very glad I went.

I have a (terrible? lazy?) habit of not really paying attention to the lyrics of songs when I’m listening for pleasure, which is only made worse, of course, if I’m doing something else AND listening to music. I had a list of bands/albums to check out from recommendations and/or presentations at ICMC, so as I was washing dishes tonight, I had pulled up a few albums on Spotify. I was thoroughly enjoying the new Sturgill Simpson album, and in my (slightly) mindless listening, I caught the phrase “I’m sorry but I’m just thinking of the right words to say,” and of course, it sounded really familiar.

The song is called “The Promise,” and was originally recorded in 1988 by the British band and one-hit-wonder, When in Rome. Considering that my presentation at ICMC addressed covers, the concept is still swirling about in my head, and I could say lots about this cross-genre cover version by Sturgill Simpson… but I should probably be thinking about my dissertation instead. In any event, I will say that Simpson’s approach to the song is languid and subdued (obviously lacking the insistent dance beat of the original), but it falls into its own little groove once it gets going.

What really sold me on the song, though, are the final two choruses of the song after the guitar solo/instrumental (3:16): Simpson sings the second of these choruses up an octave (3:40). I am a total sucker for this technique pretty much whenever it happens.1  I think it’s especially satisfying on this recording due to the fact that the vocal delivery for the bulk of the song is so understated. The added intensity of the delivery in this chorus, the upper range of Simpson’s voice, and the slight melodic alterations provide a great payoff, in my opinion, and also recall the original version of the song’s chorus. I have had this song on repeat most of the evening.2 

Sturgill Simpson – The Promise

And here’s the original…

1. I’m sure this happens in songs from all genres, but I am most familiar with it in contemporary Christian praise and worship music. It’s very common in these songs, and it happens at least once pretty much every Sunday at my church. And I still think it’s awesome every single time. Not as awesome as guitar slides, but pretty darn close.

2. Also, randomly, there’s a little motive in the strings (do-ti-re-do) in the second half of the second verse (1:59) that is the primary instrumental hook for the Cranberries song, “I Will Always,” off their debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? from 1993. I seriously doubt there’s an intentional quotation here, mainly because the motive is relatively simple and likely common; nevertheless, the two songs have the same feel, and are not too far apart in terms of narrative.


A whole lotta stuff…

It’s been a while since my last post, but here are a few updates.1 I met with the California Closets consultant yesterday and decided how to use my winnings. I have three small closets in my room (one is a small linen closet), and I currently have a roommate (rendering my walk-in closet spare bedroom off limits for storage, not to mention I still have all of these boxes of books from my office). Consequently, I have a bunch of stuff in my bedroom that normally wouldn’t be there, so I opted to get a wardrobe type thing in lieu of changing out my current clothes closets. This gives me six large drawers, a few shelves, and a several feet of additional hanging space, and hopefully will help my room look less like a storage warehouse. I also decided to go ahead (and splurge) and get the linen closet re-done while I’m at it. Of course, this pushes me over the dollar amount that Off Broadway will cover, but I figure this is the only time I’ll ever have this opportunity and motivation anyway.

Dave Rawlings Machine at the Georgia Theatre in Athens, GA, November 26, 2013; Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, John Paul Jones, Willie Watson, Paul Kowert

I saw one of the best live shows of my life the week of Thanksgiving – The Dave Rawlings Machine at the Georgia Theatre. There are lots of reasons this show was amazing (that it was basically a supergroup, the venue is pretty spectacular, the setlist was incredibly diverse, etc.), but my favorite part was the joy that seemed to emanate from the folks on stage. In light of my recent research revelation regarding performance theory, I couldn’t help but view the evening’s events through the lens of identity construction.2 Many issues were thought-provoking (and probably merit another blog post, or wait, a dissertation chapter), including the aesthetic values of various “americana” genres, including country and rock broadly, but also subgenres like bluegrass and folk, not to mention the importance of “authenticity” in relation to these genres.3 But really, I was impressed, entertained, and inspired – the music sounded good and felt good.

Also, Thanksgiving happened. My family spent a few days in the mountains, doing something different from our regular routine. I had been dreading Thanksgiving a bit, imagining it would all just be overwhelmingly sad. But I was wrong. Yes, there were moments of sadness, but it was great to spend time with my family, and being in a different place actually seemed to help (me, at least). We survived it, and that’s something.

IMG_6224 IMG_6233

Finally, in the category of college football, months ago, I had decided that I would attend the SEC championship game today (mistakenly assuming that Georgia would be playing Alabama again) as my very last college football game as a student, since I didn’t go last year. As it turns out, the Georgia – Kentucky game a couple of weeks ago gets that honor. It seems fitting, I suppose. And no, I have no intention of traveling somewhere not that exciting to go to a not that exciting bowl game.

1. And no, I haven’t finished my dissertation yet.
2. Philip Auslander, “Musical Personae,” TDR: The Journal of Performance Studies, Vol. 50, No. 1, Spring 2006.
3. The presence of John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin certainly amplified these thoughts, cf. Susan Fast’s work and view of Jones as “the band’s solid, learned musical technician.”

My trip to Chicago (with a bunch of pics)

I posted a few pics from my trip on Facebook & Instagram, but here are (quite) a few more.

Getting from Midway to the train involves a not short walk:

I interviewed a musician at Cafe Mustache (the second interview I’ve conducted there), so afterwards, I wandered around Logan Square. At the suggestion of my interviewee, I ate at a great place called Lula Cafe. It was delicious and super hip. It’s right on the square, but as I was heading that way, I passed the new Chicago Diner location!!! I knew I was going to have lunch at the original Chicago Diner later that week, so I managed to keep walking. I also passed the Rocking Horse en route; I know nothing about the place, but their sign is pretty special!

I got to go to Ravinia to see a Prairie Home Companion, and of course, spent some time at the Hideout. My friends introduced me to another Chicago venue that features live country music, the California Clipper, and I ate at my favorite restaurant in Chicago: Handlebar. And thanks to the previously mentioned interviewee, I got to see the Sanctified Grumblers and the Carolina Chocolate Drops at City Winery (for free!).

And finally, I spent a couple of days at the Chicago History Museum. It’s located at the south end of Lincoln Park, and is quite close to the lake. I got to see the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup after seeing a show at the Hideout. That night, I also met someone from my tiny undergrad institution who I had NOT known previously. Not only did we both go to Transy, we were there at the same time, and even played in the band together! I still can’t believe it. Pretty cool.

Another trip to Chicago is in the books, and it’s looking like I won’t be going back any time in the very near future (I’ll go back eventually, of course). This is bittersweet because I obviously love visiting the city, but it also means that I’m that much closer to finishing this degree. And well, we all know that I need to be transcribing and writing, not traveling! Thanks for the fun and good times, Chicago!

Happy Friday Music Fun: UKULELE!

I purchased a ukulele last Saturday, and promptly posted a photo of it on Instagram.

It’s possible that I spent many, many hours on Saturday doing nothing but playing the ukulele. And it’s equally possible that at every spare (and not so spare) moment this week, I have been playing the ukulele. It’s also a possibility that I’ve considered taking the ukulele with me everywhere I’ve been this week.

While this is most certainly an intermediate-level procrastinating technique, it’s also SO MUCH FUN I CAN’T STAND IT! I think it has something to do with the fact that in my current life, I am never a music maker. I am a music consumer, and my academic job is mostly thinking about music. I’m obviously involved in the music-making process at church. But I don’t play music anymore. Yes, I teach piano lessons, but I can’t exactly call my interaction with the piano while teaching “Playing the Piano.” Nor do I have the time and wherewithal to Play the Piano like I would like to right now.

So welcome, ukulele! Nothing says old country songs like the ukulele… ok, maybe not, but that’s what I’m using it for. So far my repertoire includes “King of the Road,” “Stand by Your Man,” “There He Goes,” “There Stands the Glass,” and “You’re Still on My Mind.” Let me know if you have any suggestions 🙂

Happy Friday, y’all!

Guitar Slide Wednesday: Grace Potter Version

I try to limit the current tv series that I DVR and keep up with. This is not a moralistic or legalistic kind of Limiting, but rather a practical-not-enough-time one. With the onset of college basketball season, there are at least two Kentucky basketball games per week that MUST be watched, plus being committed to plenty of shows (well, three or four), there’s just not enough hours. But a new show called Nashville? Featuring Tami Taylor? I absolutely cannot say no to that one.

I promise we’re getting ’round to Guitar Slide Wednesday, just bear with me for one more second. Since House ended last season, I decided to add one show this fall, and I really wanted the new show this season to be Revolution. But then I saw the preview for Nashville, and it’s my duty as an aspiring country music scholar to, um, DVR/watch this show.

OK, so here’s where we get to the song for today. At the recommendation of Tall Sound Guy, I listened to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ latest album The Lion The Beast The Beat (2012), paying special attention to a few songs, including one called “Stars.” Well, this song won a spot on the repeat playlist after just a few listens. “Stars” is a pretty straight-ahead pop-ish country ballad, full of sadness, and… slide guitar (I thought it was a pedal steel, but after my many listenings, I don’t think it is. But it could be. Either way, guitar slides happen)! This is most prominent during the verses (around 0:34 and 1:16).

I also really like the lead guitar hook at the end of the chorus (1:11 and 2:08, in thirds even!), but I’m not a big fan of the guitar solo (2:14) that ends with a seemingly interminable upward ascent. Perhaps it’s because I recently lectured on 16th century madrigal and madrigalisms, but I hear this as text painting… and I think it’s a little cheesy. Nevertheless, the song as a whole very much speaks to me. This video is a little wacky, but it’s the one with the album version of the song…

And one more thing… after probably 30 listens, I just knew this song had to be featured on a show or in a movie. It’s just too perfectly sad not to be… and I did some research googled it to discover that it’s on a current promo for Nashville!

Columbia College Chicago

I’m on the 5th floor of the Columbia College Chicago‘s library watching VHS tapes of a Chicago country music television show that was broadcast on public television in the 1990s. You probably wouldn’t believe how many folks I spoke with to get access to a VCR, but I’m SUPER excited about this little TV show. And I’m reallyreally impressed with this school so far! But I’m taking a break to share a couple of pictures from my morning…

On the way here, I got to traverse a big chunk of Michigan Avenue and saw this passing by the window of a musical instrument store:


Of course, I had to stop (Dr. S would be SO proud).

Unfortunately, the shop was closed, but I have every intention of coming back (since I have to come back to CCC to finish viewing the TV shows). Fortunately, the entrance to the store was the lobby/atrium of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, which is currently housing Chicago Model City!

Scale 1″=50′

Magnificent Mile

Chicago Apparel Mart

Rock Island Tracks

Mama Tried

Apologies that things have been pretty quiet around these parts! My time has been consumed with training Teaching Assistants and denying the impending arrival of my 25th year of school. In the mean time, I saw Merle Haggard last night at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. As part of their Concerts in the Garden series, this was an outdoor show, and the whole things was quite lovely. Atlanta isn’t my favorite city, but the show last night was a fantastic experience. The Botanical Garden is just gorgeous; it wasn’t all that hot (well, you know for a Georgia evening in August); and, of course, it was Merle Haggard.

The crowd was fairly sedate for most of the night, although I’m guessing this had more to do with the humidity than our collective enthusiasm for Merle. The opening act was a guy named Chris Janson, a singer/songwriter who is now likely seeing a significant increase in his income, as he wrote the ridiculous current radio hit “Truck Yeah” (as performed by Tim McGraw). Janson was followed by Merle’s oldest son, who sang a couple of songs with the Strangers.

The venue was lovely, but the sound was lacking (especially unfortunate, considering how good the Strangers are). Granted, Merle’s voice isn’t the strongest and/or most consistent these days, but for his first few songs, it was barely audible. Also, it was difficult to hear all of the instruments most of the time, unless there was a solo, then that instrument was REALLY loud. And as someone who now thinks about production (in a different context, but it’s on the radar nonetheless), the lighting was pretty basic. Considering how many LEDs were available, the stage was primarily green (maybe that’s the Botanical Garden’s rule) with an occasional purple, and maybe one red scene. During solos, it generally took at least a measure or two before the spot found the player; perhaps this is why the sound guy turned up the solo so loudly… But these are just picky things (OK, the sound at a live show is actually reallyreallyreally important, but I’m moving on), the main thing was that it was MERLE HAGGARD, and he, of course, played tons of his amazing songs (so many country classics!), along with a cover of “Folsom Prisom Blues.” I was especially impressed with how he can still Play the Guitar. He played a ton of the lead licks and took a surprising number of solos (his youngest son is the current electric player for the band).

During the show, I remembered my first big arena concert experience. When I was a kid, my family went to Rupp Arena to see Lee Greenwood, the Judds, and Merle Haggard. I’m pretty sure we were there primarily to see the Judds, and as I recall, we left during Merle’s set, as things were getting rowdy (and drunk, I would imagine). In any event, here’s to my Mama (and Daddy) for a respectable “first show” story!