Expand your ear!

I find it comical when I hear myself saying ‘kids these days’, ‘when I was young’, or ‘I remember when’. Phrases I thought only to be muttered by grumpy, old men and women living in the past. The world is experiencing a rapid growth of technology and it has an immediate impact on our culture. This truth hits not only as a realization of how old I’m getting but also of how quickly and drastically things change.  Rewind back to 2004, just 15 years ago.  As a 13 year old with an allowance of 5 dollars a week and no financial consultant, my money often went to silly things. Occasionally my older brother and I would ask our parents to drop us off at the mall where we would spend most of our time in a music store that sold CD’s. They had listening systems in every aisle where you could scan a CD and listen to snippets of the tracks. We saved up to get the newest albums by artists we liked.  As technology continued saturating the market it became more and more affordable. Eventually my brother and I received desktop computers for our birthdays. Over time my brother and I learned how to download music legally and maybe illegally. We did it quite regularly and in large quantities.

Streaming platforms like Napster or Rhapsody were just beginning to develop. We didn’t have the maturity of understanding how our actions impacted the artists and industry. The silver lining to this experience is that we dove deep down the rabbit hole, and I mean real deep. We would download the entire album or discography of an artist who we discovered from just one track.  We had an appreciation for hearing a track in context, which is something that seems to be fading in today’s music world.  An album is a creative project. It may all be conceived by the same artist but usually varies significantly from track to track. After school I would set up a queue on my computer of albums to download during dinner. I would then spend the rest of the evening listening to them. I certainly didn’t like everything I heard but I’m extremely grateful that I experienced it. Doing this instilled great listening habits that shaped me not only as a musician but as an individual as well. 

So what’s my point? 

In my experience I’ve found it less and less common for young students to explore as heavily into the world of music as I did, and I want to remedy this.  There are contributing factors outside of my control but one way I can try to help is to share. The title of this series is Matt’s New Music Mondays. It’s my intention to share music that may not necessarily be new, but rather to share music that might be new to you. I may highlight material that was released over the past week or perhaps from five hundred years ago. 

These weekly playlists will be compilations of songs and pieces that I like. Some of the submissions will have merit in academia and others just may be really groovin’. Some of them will have powerful and meaningful messages while others may just be catchy.  Much like music itself, the quality of what is shared will be subjective to the listener. 

All I ask is that you listen with an open heart and open mind. If you like something, check out that particular artist further. Check out similar artists, document things about the music that you like and don’t like – and most importantly why?  

I’m fortunate enough to have this platform that allows me to share with you, so I ask one simple favor in return: share with me! If there are any artists, bands, or tracks that you would like me to check out, please send an email. (It may even make the list!)

Nick Waterhouse – I Had Some Money

While listening to the Blues Kitchen Radio podcast, I heard this really jammin’ song that sounded like it was straight out of the 50’s. As the song ended I listened intently to hear which artist from so long ago had slipped past my radar. I was surprised that it was released in 2016. The album Never Twice is full of head boppin’ swing grooves, back-up vocals, and saxophone solos reminiscent of 50 years ago, but the quality of the recording is reflective of today’s capabilities. This album is extremely fun and refreshing; it’s almost funny to hear new, old sounding stuff. 

Laura Marling – Soothing

This track opens up with slow, hypnotic drums and two measures later an upright bass joins in with bass chords approached by what sounds like contrary motion. The introduction is propelled by Laura’s smooth vocals and helps express the feeling of coming to terms with ones sexuality. The album is titled Semper Femina, an idea borrowed from ancient poetry. Its original context roughly translates to ‘woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing’. It received a Grammy nomination for best folk album. This track is very unique in comparison to the rest of her work.

Waverly Consort – B’Tayhi M’Sadder

This hip shaking jam is from the 15th century Spanish medieval era! You can maybe hear some Moorish influence in the melodic line played by the oud – an instrument of Persian decent. I was exposed to medieval and renaissance music during my time with the Collegium Musicum ensemble directed by Dr. Lourin Plant at Rowan University. While working with the ensemble there were many times when we would be playing a piece and the whole group would be rocking out! It’s so much fun to play something with strong grooves from over 500 years ago. This piece was originally released on an album called “1492: Music from the Age of Discovery.” It’s recently been re-released on this two disc album called “Spanish Music of Travel and Discovery” by the Waverly Consort.

Frank Perkins Orchestra – Fandango 

Fast forward 350 plus years but stay within the realm of pieces with Spanish influence and you’ll find Fandango. It starts with an energetic introduction that sets the pace for the song. It feels like you’re on an old steam train with the whistle blowing and the engine crankin’! The castanets feel like the fast paced passing of railway ties. The melody paints a picture in my mind of a serene landscape with open prairies and mountains. The flutes have fast swirling lines that complement the bass and rhythm section which maintain the driving force throughout most of the piece. It’s a short, fun piece from an era known as the Golden Age of Light Music.

Run the Jewels – Thursday in the Danger Room  

This track is one of my favorites off their 2016 Grammy nominated album Run the Jewels 3 and features Kamasi Washington. It’s members include El P who raps and produces most of the instrumentals for the albums, and Killer Mike – a social activist and prolific figure in shaping the future for our youth in underdeveloped communities. The main elements of hip hop that draw me in are consonance, alliteration, and flow. If an artist can say something meaningful while focusing on these aspects, it really gets me excited and energized. Check out the rest of this album as well as their other ones and keep a look out for their latest release Run the Jewels 4.

De una Vez Gozando – Sonora Carruseles

My father was born in Puerto Rico and he was a DJ when he was young. I remember all the crates we used to have filled with vinyl records and was exposed to a large amount of Spanish and Latin music. Salsa was always my favorite style of music because the groove is just so infectious. It’s impossible not to start dancing when you hear the multi piece percussion section, the extremely syncopated and rhythmic piano, and the bass providing the foundation for the other layers to join in. 

Firth of Fifth – Genesis

When I was a teenager, my guitar teacher had mentioned the band Genesis a few times and for reasons unbeknownst to me, I had not explored them further. It wasn’t until I started doing my own research on more progressive rock bands that I started to see their name appear more and more. I finally downloaded their album ‘Selling England by the Pound’ and was immersed in this listening experience that felt like progressive rock blended with classical elements of recurring motifs and thematic sections. This gave the album a more cohesive feeling than some projects released by their counterparts and earned Genesis a spot as one of the greatest prog-rock bands in classic rock.

144,000 – Tribal Seeds

This reggae group isn’t from Jamaica or any island, but rather from San Diego, and while some may argue that locale entails authenticity, I implore you that this group of musicians has done their homework. The drums are tight and crisp, the guitar is syncopated, the horns layer in melodies at just the right times, and the bass is the groovin’ foundation. I think they’re a great band to check out if you’re on the fence about reggae music, and my hope is that they pull you to a particular side of the fence – the side that leads to exploring more music of this style!

Sittin’ On Top of the World – Jerry Reed

Whenever I’m talking about blues or country guitar with students of mine I try to give some insight into the history behind the genres. These musicians are often self-taught, reside in lower income areas, and have little or no access to resources the rest of the world may have. In my experience too often are these genres swept aside and considered to be ‘simple’ or ‘lesser’ forms of music, but these forms of music are rooted in the expression of the individual, and nothing about someone’s emotions should be belittled or looked down on. The fact that some of these musicians have become virtuosos on their instrument is a testament to their dedication and hard work. Jerry Reed is one of these virtuosos, and his version of this popular blues song is a refreshing take on the original structure and harmonic progression of the tune.

Long Way Home – Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown

Similar to the previous artist Clarence Brown is an amazing blues guitarist born in Louisiana during the 1920’s. He won a Grammy in 1983 for best traditional blues album, and although this song is from a different project, it shows exactly why he’s considered one of the greats in blues guitar. It incorporates the traditional harmonies of blues music (I – IV – V) but every single fill and lick between chords is tailored slightly different. The nuance and detail that goes into the music is a reflection of his character and his emotions. When I listen to blues music in the right mood it gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes. I truly love it.

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