Archive for January, 2011

Filed Under (Acoustic Covers)

A while back we posted Eight Hands, Two Guitars – a two-video series chronicling the attempts of four men, short on instruments, to double their sound output. Well, now we’re upping the ante to four men on one guitar, complete with four-part vocal harmonies. Hence: Eight Hands, Four Voices, One Guitar.

Pretty groovy, huh? The song is One Night in October, a 2009 single by the British band Little Comets. They describe their music as “kitchen sink indie,” and though I have little idea what that means (it conjures up images of household items used as musical instruments – seems to me their drummer should play a pot-pan-and-washboard-kit), any group that counts Roald Dahl among their primary influences is worth a listen.

Check out the original:
One Night In October – Little Comets by UselessArtRecs

And another tune of theirs:
Little Comets – Joanna by Mud Hut Digital

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Filed Under (AV of the Day)

It’s singalong time at The Acoustic Version! Pay attention to how Mistah Mustache voices the different layers: bass, lead guitar, vocal melody. The way the song is structured – licks repeating over steady bass progressions – makes it relatively easy to see how he pulls that off. (It’s not as complex as Zappa’s Peaches en Regalia, that’s for sure!)
(h/t RL)

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Over the last 37 years, James Lee Stanley ( has released a meager 24 albums of original material. As I’ve explored his music, what’s impressed me most is that he’s continued breaking new ground with each project. For example, what you’ll hear on Live at McCabe’s (1986) – see the I Lose You Win video below – has a very different character than the tunes that comprise his most recent album, Backstage at the Resurrection (2010).

So needless to say, the man knows a thing or two about songwriting. He’s also a funny dude, a pleasure to talk to, and generous with his time, wisdom, and vast experience writing, performing, and producing music. In fact, for the past several years he’s been running a website – – which is his platform for sharing ideas and experiences about all elements of his craft. There are some vital insights there for any musician and/or performer.

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time chatting with James. We had met before – at his show a few days earlier – so we weren’t strangers when we sat down to talk. He had played at the Triad Theater, a small, sit-down venue in New York City perfect for a stand-up comedian or singer-songwriter. James is both.

So much of what he had to say is so interesting that I decided to break it up into several pieces so I could share as much of it as possible with you, loyal readers of The Acoustic Version. This is the first installment of three – check back each of the next two Sundays for parts 2 and 3.

A James Lee Stanley show is an emotional roller coaster ride. One moment you’re rollicking with laughter, the next you’re completely transfixed by the music. “I give [my audience] a window into everything I’ve got,” he says.

The AV: Let’s talk about songwriting. Can you tell me a little bit about your approach?

JLS: I like to orchestrate the song, and I do it with one guitar so that no one ever goes “Hey, wait a minute! I paid 20 bucks to get in here. Where’s the band?” No one’s every complained there’s no band when I play.

I also take a long time to write my lyrics, and I take a long time to write my songs, and I don’t want the focus to be on the arrangement any less than I want it to be on what I’m trying to say and how poetically I’m saying it. My goal when I write a song is for the lyrics to be able to sit by themselves and work. And if you just heard the melody all by itself, it would work. And then if you heard the guitar part that went behind the song all by itself, it would work. It would be satisfying all by itself. And then I try to combine them so that every aspect of it, every facet of it, is equally valid.

The AV: Some songwriters write to melody; some write to their instrumentation, and there are some who are primarily poets, and they set their stuff to music. But if you’re not privileging one element over the others…
Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed Under (Uncategorized)

You can get a big sound playing acoustic… you just need a lot of instruments!

Here’s how it came out:
The Morning Benders – Excuses by flavatadpole

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Filed Under (Acoustic Originals)

This song was written in 1861, and nobody in the Western hemisphere had heard it until the late 1980s. Now just about everyone has.

I’m not going to tell you where you’ll recognize it from. Just go into it with an open mind, because there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on musically. Take the instrumentation, for starters, each piece of which owes its existence to the Russian countryside. There’s the contrabass balalaika (members of the balalaika family are identifiable by their trademark triangular bodies), which serves basically the same function that a double bass or bass guitar does in the music a lot of us are used to hearing. Then there’s the garmoshka – played here by the lead singer – a button accordian (no less a wind instrument than a tuba or saxophone, but mouth-free) which plays a rhythmic and melodic role similar to that of the keyboard in rock. There’s the balalaika, which is similar in tone and function to the mandolin or ukelele. And the tambourine and backup singer in the funny hat are self-explanatory.

It’s also worth paying attention to a few narrative devices (if you will) used here to drive a song which is, in terms of structure, pretty repetitive. For example, note their use of dynamics (in volume and velocity), beginning with the introduction into the first verse. The song, which starts with a pretty brisk tempo, slows way down to start the first verse, giving the melody some upward motion and a dash of unpredictability.

Most interesting to me, though, is how the group trades solos throughout the song – a system which provides enough variation to keep the audience entertained, and lets a given musician have a little fun by stealing the spotlight for 10 or 20 seconds. Note in particular the contrabass balalaika solo that comes in at 1:47 – it sounds remarkably like the kind of walking bass line that’s traditionally been so integral to the jazz sound.

And isn’t this one of the great things about popular music? My urban American lifestyle may have very little in common with its rural Russian counterpart, but peel back a few layers and I start to see my own roots – folk, blues, jazz – cropping up in faraway places.

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