And so like Robert the Bruce’s spider, I’m back once again climbing the wall…of sound. Although in my observation of spiders, that one of legend must’ve been pretty high to fall so many times. Scotch, you say? That wouldn’t be surprising. Anyway, I usually write this blog during periods of sobriety and so hopefully unlike the spider, I won’t have to make 8 attempts to make this stick.
How do any of you cotton on to a song or album that you end up liking and/or buying with little or no prior knowledge of the musician and his/her music other than having read about or heard mention of said artist? Or of a musician that you had hitherto heard but had passed by in the heavy traffic of music releases? With me it’s often due to a few bits of samples that I hear and get excited about and those bits are usually the start of the song. Mind you, “excited” is the key word – this wouldn’t work otherwise. Of course, that’s not the only way I pick up music but it’s this method, or non-method, that I have the most fun with. And it’s mostly very successful. There are many, many pieces of music with highly identifiable signature starts but I’ve just chosen 4 – partly because these have been on my playlist quite a lot these last few weeks and mainly because I’ve got it in my head that I’ve thus far made 4 starts, or re-starts, to this blog. And so I decided to indulge in some cheap symbolism.
One of last year’s great albums, and an album that has gone on to become one of my favourites of all time, was Rudresh Mahanthappa’s “Gamak” and I was sold on it from the first blast on the saxophone of the album opener “Waiting Is Forbidden”. True to its title, it just takes off on its high-energy run without a hint of a gentle warm-up. In fact, the only such among the 4 that are featured in this post. I had heard some of Mahanthappa’s albums before and I had enjoyed them. But this one woke me up to what a brilliant musician he is and got me to listening to his earlier works with renewed interest. But even that set of truly excellent albums doesn’t quite match up to what the quartet of Mahanthappa, David Fiuczynski, Dan Weiss and Francois Moutin created on “Gamak” with every single song.
The song that I hear the most these days is fab guitarist Warren Mendonsa’s “Renaissance Mission”. Mendonsa releases music in his Blackstratblues avatar and this song should appear in his upcoming album (his third). And I, like quite a few others, think this should be the album opener. That searing opening slide is a sure hook to haul the listener into the rest of what promises to be another beautiful album. It’s a pity that I missed him play live – again – last week. I will correct that sooner than later.
I haven’t heard a lot of Gerry Rafferty’s music but I think “Baker Street” made him and broke him. Whatever I’ve heard makes me think that here was a terrific talent who got consumed by a beautiful monster of his own creation. That spectacular saxophone signature and the guitars lay a huge dramatic set to which Rafferty lends a mellow counterpoint with his understated singing. This song has got to be one of the greatest pop songs ever made.
When I was a kid navigating his own way through the world of music, I steered clear of heavy metal. All the peripheral haze of demonism and what-not seemed to me the core substance. I did not give the genre the benefit of a single hearing. And then one day as I sat at a music store where I spent most of my spare time – and that was a lot – I heard the ominous yet mesmerising opening of Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” which was the opening track of their debut album of the same name. Never mind the theatrics and Ozzy’s lousy (but highly effective) vocals. Iommi, Butler and Ward played incredibly well and I think not enough credit is given to Sabbath for shaking things up and bringing in a new musical ethos. This song and album formed a major turning point on my road to musical discovery. No, I didn’t immediately morph into a maniacal head-banger. But this was the point I consciously opened my mind and heart to all kinds of music. You see, through Sabbath and this song in particular, I had my first experience of Western Classical music. Not many, actually no one in my circle of friends and acquaintances then who were Sabbath fans knew that the opening music of this song was based on Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” from “The Planets”. I stumbled upon this fact almost right after buying the Sabbath album and soon there I was with my first Western Classical album – Holst’s “The Planets”.