Archive for December, 2010

Filed Under (Acoustic Covers)

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. As happens every year, thousands of people gathered at Strawberry Fields, the section of Central Park named for him, for a kind of “be-in,” a relic of Lennon’s generation and a fitting commemoration. People talked, sang, and expressed hope that his music would contribute to a more peaceful future.

As a Beatles fan and as a writer about music, I would be remiss if I didn’t dedicate a post to Lennon, the man who – in just 40 years of life – contributed more to songwriting as a modern art form than any other who has yet walked the Earth. He wasn’t born a genius, though. By his own admission, The Beatles’ early career was propelled by “songs with no more thought to them” than any old pop song on the early ‘60s radio.

And then came In My Life, which he called “the first song I wrote that was consciously about my life.” It is not only, as he called it, “a nice song”; it is a monument to the man, the band, and to every song written since. Show me a songwriter who doesn’t count Lennon among his influences, and I’ll show you a songwriter who doesn’t know how to write a song.

Among Lennon’s devotees is one Jose Feliciano, himself a legend and a scion of the tradition of blind guitar masters. In fact, the feeling was mutual – Lennon expressed admiration for Feliciano, and in particular for his version of In My Life. I can think of no more fitting tribute than this video of Feliciano playing his interpretation of the masterpiece.

Oh yeah, and he’s sitting – where else – in Strawberry Fields. It is certainly a place we remember for John.

Listen to the original, complete with George Martin’s keyboard work:
The Beatles – In My Life

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Filed Under (Acoustic Originals)

Suffice it to say, the official music video for this song did not make a fan out of me. The opening scene features Matisyahu dressed in some kind of jumpsuit and sitting next to a frat-bro King Antiochus, the villain who Jews celebrate having defeated 2200 years ago. Later, we see the side-locked Matisyahu wearing a Santa costume and locked in a cage. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s one of the tackiest videos I’ve ever seen.

Now, this is not to be confused with Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles,” which is without question the tackiest. (Miracle(s)… tacky… coincidence?) But ICP’s is so absurd that it transcends its tackiness and enters the realm of the hilarious: an example of what screenwriter Dana Stevens catchily referred to as “the permeable border between high drama and low comedy.”

Not to belabor the point, but really. The video. I didn’t even make it through the full 5 minutes. Which is a shame, because this is the song that many, facing yet another terrible case of religio-seasonal affect disorder (RSAD), have been trumpeting as the cultural redeemer of the Jewish holiday season. Is this what we are reduced to?

Anyway, this is where I was at. Then Matisyahu went on Sirius XM and did an acoustic version of Miracle, and suddenly I was forced to reevaluate. (He also performed the number on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, but there is no available video of that.)

This guy is seriously talented. In this one song we see him start with a Dancehall pulse, jump an octave for a hook-y chorus, and then break it down with some of his famous beat-boxing. Said Matisyahu, “I wanted to try to get across some of the depth and spirituality inherent in the holiday in a fun, celebratory song.” You better believe, when he sings “Bound to stumble and fall/But my strength comes not from man at all” – Matisyahu is praying. The emotion – the spiritual passion – on his face is real, and it is contagious.

I’m off to light 7 candles. Happy Hannukah!

Listen to the original here:

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Filed Under (Acoustic Originals)

The most recent issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine features Andy McKee, the acoustic guitarist turned viral web phenomenon, as its centerfold. (His shaved head, beard, and thick set may seem unusual for a centerfold, but AG doesn’t discriminate.) In the interview, McKee shares the story of his journey from metal (he still looks the part) to acoustic music, the people who turned him on to the percussive style – notably Preston Reed, some techniques he uses, and his bedroom transformation from total anonymity to massive global fame.

McKee is not my cup of tea, though I don’t quite agree with the borderline-obnoxious – but not completely wrong-headed – commenter who wrote that “this guy lived with his mom in the basement until he was like 35 or 40…not kidding…wouldnt it be nice if we all had that much time to devote to hobbies like this”. (Actually he is 31, and I’m guessing he’s moved out of his mom’s basement by now.) My problem with McKee’s music is that often I can’t find a melody. In fact, I think there often isn’t one. His percussive playing, which is definitely impressive, doesn’t excuse that in my mind.

But how can any acoustic guitar site – particularly one interested in mining the diamonds from the YouTube rough – not feature Andy McKee? After all, the guy single-handedly legitimized internet fame for musicians. His song “Drifting” has registered nearly 35 million hits. 35 million. That’s near most on YouTube. So here he is. Watch him once, but unless you plan to devote yourself to his style, you’re better off spending your time studying, say, Pat Metheny or Neil Young.

Update (12/10): Listen to the MP3 here:
Andy McKee – Drifting

Also, check out this very cool jazzy interpretation:

Omer Rabinovitz – Drifting (Andy Mckee)

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