Posts Tagged ‘Folk’

Freedom of Music: Starbucks Freebies

March 22nd, 2009
freedom-of-music-headerOne likes to believe in the freedom of music.

Rush – Spirit of Radio.

If you have an i-pod and you like to pay $4.50 for you daily caffeine fix, as I do, you will know already that Starbucks gives away music. You can pick up a card at the cash for a free i-tunes download of a song by a featured artist. StarbucksTo be sure these are not songs you would normally otherwise buy: the point behind them is to create exposure for unheralded artists. Household names like Beast, The Waking Eyes, The Dears, Dido or Neko Case are only that in their own households, but they are each credible artists who in a different climate might be better known.

The commonality that runs through the pieces offered is the tendency for them to be of the alt or indy genres (can alternative really be a genre: once it is a genre doesn’t it lose it’s alternative status? And can anyone be independent and have their music available at Starbucks?) That said, of the sixteen songs I have downloaded there are several styles, including rock, pop, jazz, folk and alternative.

The music ranges in quality as well, with some being really quite good, and some less to my taste. The highlight of the group is a video download they gave out at Christmas. Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss performing the classic Wexford Carol. Other highlights include the jazzy Chances by Jill Barber, Neko Case’s People Got A Lot of Nerve, Land of Talk’s Some are Lakes, Greg Laswell’s How the Day Sounds and, my favourite of the unknowns Blink Pilot’s One Red Thread.

But good or bad is somewhat irrelevant: if I handed you sixteen songs of my choosing, each by a different artist, none of whom you had even heard of before,  I probably wouldn’t fare much better picking songs you like than Starbucks does with me. Some I like, some not so much – that’s going to happen. What’s interesting is the distribution model.

As traditional methods of finding new music disappear, new ways must be found. Like or dislike Starbucks, there is a method here of promoting artists, of getting music in the hands of the consumer, of presenting new music for your consumption. Whether it is the method of the future, nobody knows. But at the very least, my i-pod has sixteen songs on it it wouldn’t otherwise have, some of which will get repetitive listens. And who knows, I may find my new favourite artist one day in the card dispenser at Starbucks. What more could you want with your four-and-a half dollar coffee?

The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Freedom of Music

March 1st, 2009

One likes to believe in the freedom of music.

Rush – Spirit of Radio.

It was the late 90’s, around the time of his first album Industrial Lullaby, that I first heard Stephen Fearing. He was on TV, TVO’s In Studio if memory serves me correctly. His playing was virtually classical, with two and three separate lines of music weaving across his finger picked guitar. Yet unlike any classical player I had ever seen, he was singing as well as playing this complex music. I’ve been a fan since.
The Best of Stephen Fearing

The Best of Stephen Fearing

I saw him live once, in one of the most amazing shows I have ever been to. It was in a music store in Fearing’s hometown of Guelph. Expensive hand-made acoustic guitars lined the wall of Folkway Music, adding ambiance and sympathetic harmony while Fearing played acoustically and un-amplified for about 50 lucky fans. It was one of those deeply poetic moments when art reaches down and touches you deeply. A fabulous performance that left everybody feeling overawed.

Fearings problem has always been in his recorded output. Put simply, additional instrumentation, added harmonies and basic production mean that his virtuossidebar-6ic guitar playing gets either simplified or lost, his percussive right hand technique disappears for a drummer, always it seems, to the songs detriment. Buy the live CD would be my advice, not a studio one.

Putting his recent Best of CD, The Man Who Married Music: The Best of Stephen Fearing on the stereo, it was a pleasure to hear the bulk of the music was stripped down to it’s basic elements the way a Stephen Fearing song should. Sure, some of the music is overly produced and subsequently uninteresting. And yes, Fearing’s habit of lyrically reaching unnecessarily for profundity and depth is on full display. But that does not mean this is not a very good CD.

I always wonder how a guy like Fearing chooses songs for a best of CD. If your Dan Hill or Bruce Cockburn it’s easy enough, you pick the songs that get, or got, radio airplay. But what if you rarely get radio time? Pick your favourites? The ones the fans tell you they love? Flip a coin? Either way, Fearing chose reasonably well, and the amount of paired down songs that made the collection tell you that Fearing understands his strengths as well as anyone.

The dichotomy between the two types of songs, heavily acoustic and heavily produced, is no more apparent than the collection’s second song, Yellow Jacket. The verses are stripped back, that right hand percussion and delicate finger-picking over a strongly melodic vocal line. At the chorus, however, in comes orchestration and extra vocals, and a nice song begins to fall down. It’s not enough to ruin the song, but it hurts the effort.

Under no circumstances should it be said that all tracks with band are not good, as someone throwing the CD on and playing from the beginning will quickly find out. The opening track, Home, is a mid tempo, almost poppy piece, crossing between Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young in a song that could easily get heavy radio rotation. And it is, for all my complaints about what makes a good Stephen Fearing song, a very listenable piece.

But the collections strengths are in it’s simple numbers: The Bells of Morning, played live; The Longest Road, also live; the marvellous guitar solo in Dog on a Chain/ James Melody. All predominately acoustic, all exceptional songs.

The highlight of the album is the very pretty title track The Man Who Married Music: a deeply sweet almost apologetic song to his wife, filled out wonderfully with banjo, Dobro guitar, mandolin and haunting background vocals, The Man Who Married Music is a testament to Fearing’s songwriting and an example of how production can benefit his songs. All the added instrumentation complements his wonderful guitar work, layering a finely honed song from the pen of a craftsman.

If you’re looking to pick up some quality Canadian music, but unsure what to get, grab Stephen Fearing’s The Man Who Married Music: The Best of Stephen Fearing, a solid collection of the best from one of Canada’s most respected music men.

The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod , , , , , ,