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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Music- Byrne and Byrom (finally)

(Not 'finally they made new music', but rather 'finally I can get around to writing about my newest music acquisitions'.) I caved and bought myself two new albums of music a few nights ago. Actually, I was honestly just going to check on prices, to see how much I would be spending on music later on, when I actually was ready to buy more music, but I got roped in because Paul Byrom's new album was much cheaper than I had guessed it would be (yay promo sales!). And, as with all slippery slopes, once I bought his, I had a much harder time putting off buying Neil Byrne's new one.(Does this make Paul's music a sort of gateway drug- buy Paul's music, wake up a week later with a whole new music collection?) In the few days since, I have attended a friend's voice recital and rehearsed and performed in my own choir concert. In addition I have had a 3-4 hour chat by phone with my brother, and have had a crash course in Colorado criminal court procedures after my father turned up unexpectedly in the county jail with felony charges pending. Needless to say, reviewing albums has been nearer to the bottom of my to do list as a result. This week will no doubt remain complicated, and probably the rest of the year, for that matter, but aside from occasional flashes of "good grief" and other choice Charlie Brown phrases echoing through the back of my mind, hopefully things will go back to normal very soon.

The plus side to waiting to write anything about my new music is that I have had a few days to digest it and to get over any initial gripes I might have had about the ongoing obsession among my favorite singers for covers. I do indeed like Neil's version of Cherish, off his Sensitive Souls, and Grenade and the other covers he has recorded under the name Pale Blue Jak on the new album Faces. And I like Paul's voice on all his songs, too. I'm just not so sure I need to hear renditions of 'To Where You Are' and 'You Raise Me Up' and 'The Prayer' from every single great new male singer. These songs were cool enough when Josh Groban sang them, partly because at that time I did not know them yet. But now I have heard them recorded, on albums, by Josh, and by Rhydian, and now by Paul Byrom. I do find it amusing to hear Paul's cover of Josh Groban's song 'Galileo'. Sure, familiar songs are easier to sell, especially when the artist is less well-known, and songs like Ave Maria are also sung by lots of people without my complaining so much. But there are literally thousands of great songs that my favorite singers could record, and it seems silly that they all only sing the same few songs.

Ok, but I was over griping about covers, right? I am. Actually Rhydian mentioned something about that his newest, soon to be released album will have plenty of Welsh songs (yay!), and Josh's latest album isjust about all original music. Many of Neil Byrne's songs on this most recent album are original, and most of Ryan's album, In Time, is original. And since when did classic crooners ever sing new stuff anyway? Actually back in the day many of the songs Paul is covering now were new, but that aside, many of his songs on his brand new album are rendered in French or Spanish, or somehow have been tweaked so that they sound distinctly like Paul Byrom songs. And even when the cover is very, very similar to the original, as is the case with 'Galileo', Paul's singing is gorgeous. His voice has such a different texture from Josh Groban's voice that it's almost like the song has been picked up by a completely different instrument, bassoon instead of clarinet perhaps? (Gripe gripe gripe gripe....sorry)

Really, though, Paul's album, This is the Moment, is well worth getting, and is already filtering its way into my playlists.Whatever I think of all these covers, Paul's voice is still mesmerizing, whatever he is singing. And at least I can almost always sing along to songs Paul is singing, while my voice seems to have a slightly different range (or something) compared to Josh Groban's. Anyway, for whatever reason I can sing along to Paul's version of 'To Where You Are' easier than I can to Josh's. For a choir-addict like me, that's a nice bonus. Maybe once I de-stress enough to be happily singing along to Paul's new album more, I'll have a more balanced review as well. On its own it is a very good album, and my annoyance at the current trends in male vocal music should not be construed as suggesting otherwise. But if Keith Harkin and/or Emmet Cahill stuffs songs like 'You Raise Me Up', 'To Where You Are', 'The Prayer', or 'Anthem' (from Chess) into the tracklists of their first albums, I'll really have a bone to pick with somebody. Not with Keith, or Emmett, or Paul, or Rhydian, or Josh, either. Just Somebody.

Pale Blue Jak- Faces
Neil Byrne's project, Pale Blue Jak, still confuses me a bit, though this whole project name thing is exactly the sort of thing I would expect of my old art school buddies, among whom Neil would no doubt be quite at home. There is something aesthetically consistent about linking the name Pale Blue Jak to Neil, at least from what one can hear of who he is through his music, but I feel like I don't really know him well enough to understand why. Maybe that just means I'll have to hear some more of his music?

The album itself is called Faces, and if his tweets lately are any indication, we might get to hear more music in the future via Pale Blue Jak. Whatever one calls it, it's a very nicely crafted album. Some of his songs remind me a bit of the 80's pop sound we grew up with, which is not surprising when you consider that we are roughly the same age. Actually, not to get back into my covers rant, I've noticed that the songs Paul, Neil and Rhydian cover include a lot of those songs we all grew up with. Neil's cover, 'Let Em In', is one my sister was too young to remember, but I'd bet Neil was listening to it on his side of the Atlantic at about the same time I was listening to it here. Just as I am hearing from old highschool acquaintances now, and hearing lots of 'remember when' stories about the 80's, I suppose folks my age who sing would reminisce by wanting to sing those old songs from their youth. I can hardly blame them, since I do my share of hunting down all my favorite 80's hair-bands on youtube (Europe, Styx, Def Leppard, Poison, etc).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The indie music universe, part 1

I'm working on a research paper this month on the political economy of independent music, a nice aside from language politics. So, among other burning questions, I am trying to find out a) whether independent artists fare better or worse than those who sign with big labels, and why? and b) how artists perceive their options and what they see as viable options for their careers. Do artists still daydream about being signed to big labels while they pursue indie careers? What disadvantages do they face that might allow big labels to seduce them into contracts eventually?

Some websites devoted to indie music:
alternative sounds (personal blog) - a personal blog dedicated to songs, rather than to bands or genres, interesting blog idea and potentially a great way to discover a few new artists (has not been updated in a while). Actually I might add a bit more of this blogger's approach to some of my own posts in the future, but of course with the songs I have on my itunes.

indie rock cafe - a rather elaborate and professional blog site, which seems promising as a potential source of fresh new music. Appears to be current and regularly updated. Lots of mp3's to peruse, as mp3 dissemination is a primary focus on this blog.

Indiependentmusic ("A website about music stuff")- standard basic blog layout, so appears less impressive than indie rock cafe, but there's a lot of interesting stuff in here. Lots of streaming music content.

Indie Update - an independent music news blog, not as messy at the front page, so looks nice and shiny (or maybe I just like the basic gray theme). Not as many bands featured on the front page, but there's a lot more stuff buried away in this site. Of particular interest for me are the more industry oriented article-style posts, which present views on indie music and the music industry in general, though this site is a bit tough to navigate compared to some.

Obscure Sound - a visibly different mix of aesthetics compared to the other pages so far on this list, so might have a different range of sound too. (sadly, one can no more judge a band by its album art than one can judge a book by its cover.)

Boost Independent Music - mp3 music store for independent and unsigned artists, which proclaims that its mp3's are just 69 cents a piece, so cheaper than standard itunes and amazon.com prices. This site is a bit busy and seems clunky on my tiny laptop screen, so hopefully the music selection improves the shopping experience somewhat. The fact that there were so many song links by the same few folks on the top ten and recent additions sections of this site's front page bodes ill, since one would expect that a sufficiently large selection across several genres should show more diversity on these sorts of lists.

The Celtic Music Fan (personal blog) - most of the sites listed above seem to showcase more of the electronica, hip hop, and alternative rock genres, and as one might guess from my own posts, I am more of an old-timey song collector at heart, so here's a blog which highlights what is going on in Celtic music.

So, there's a lot of music going on out there, though the sheer amount of indie music 'out there' in the cyberuniverse makes finding the good ones seem a bit daunting. How can artists possibly expect fans to wade through all the blogs, mp3 shops, and other online music sources to find them? It is certainly not a scenario in which one could be expected to have complete information to make rational choices, so no doubt luck and money feature just as prominently as talent and musicality. All of the sites listed above agree that it is easier than ever to make it as an independent musician, or at least without selling out to corporate labels, but none of them seem to answer the problem of potential fans having too many options. Some folks, like the guys I follow from Celtic Thunder, have pre-made starter fan-bases from other things they are associated with. No doubt a lot of Rhydian Roberts' success has been due to his starter fan based via X-Factor, too. Without this initial boost, how could a singer, with or without a band, develop enough of a fan-base to not be out-competed for fans' attention by other artists?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Orange and Green Things, etc

I've finished reading J. Bradley's book on soccer in Scotland, which may not have convinced me that Scottish people aren't crazy, but which at least was a window into the methods within their madness. What better way to follow such a book than with a 617-page tome on Scotland and Scottish history? This week's new British Isles book on my reading schedule is The Scottish Nation, by T.M. Devine. After reading the first 14 pages, I'm optimistic that this book will be a faster read than the next of my much shorter public administration books for my seminar. I've read a few other histories dealing with Scotland and its earlier history, but not much that covers the more recent 400 years, so especially considering just how much the events of 300 years ago still impact modern Scotland and Ireland, I am looking forward to filling in a few gaps in my history knowledge. Most of my ancestral lines apparently left the British Isles for the Colonies sometime in the early 1600's, so sadly I won't be reading about long-distant relatives any longer, but they all seemed to be from Lanark/Lothian on southward and westward anyway. [But that's a blog post or five in itself. When I get more time to play on ancestry.com again, I'll post some of my more fun stuff here. I have a distant relative named Minnette Parker and another called Jemima West Tannehill, both very cool names. I know very little else about either, though.]

I also brought home a book on culture policy and one on devolution in the UK, which should be entertaining. I'll post something on them later this week. The only other media link for tonight's post is a blog, which annoyingly has no nifty 'follow' button on it. Paul Byrom's blog, Official Paul Byrom Blog, may be a link of interest from time to time. It is always hard to know exactly the true nature of celebrity websites and online personas, but I suspect that at least so far this is in fact a site updated by Paul, not by some ghost-writer or PR person. No PR person in their right mind would post anything as long as some of the posts on his blog. Paul has had phenomenal success so far with his brand new album, This is the Moment, so hopefully his solo career is off to a solid start.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ryan's Back!!! (and other news)

First, about Ryan Kelly- It's going to be at the back of my mind now, till I find out what exactly has been going on with Ryan, the charming Irish guy from Celtic Thunder, of course. In any case, he's back with the group, and touring the states as we speak. Sadly, I will not be in the audience when they hit Denver, but I hope to catch them sometime, at least, hopefully before all the initial members leave. I had assumed from what I picked up as a rather poorly informed fan, mainly from comments the other Celtic Thunder guys made, that Ryan had left the group to stay out of the public spotlight because he was maybe engaged or something, which made sense enough. Really it's none of my business, so I settled with that story as true enough for what I needed to know.

But apparently that is not quite the real story. Being engaged would not be described as a horror or terribly traumatic, unless of course things went very, very badly wrong. So I am back to knowing absolutely nothing, except that at least he is back to singing and recording new music. I have had his song "The village that they call 'the Moy'" stuck in my head for days, so when his next album comes out, I will most certainly be watching for it. his debut album has been out a whole year now, and has several great tracks on it, including "The Moy" song. I am still feeling broke and poor, so it may be a while till I have it in my itunes collection, but folks who have jobs and are not paying tuition every term may wish to get their own copy of Ryan Kelly- In Time

Everything I have seen and heard about this guy suggests that he is one of the nicest, most likeable men in the music business, and whatever happened to him this year, I wish him all the best from here on.

Book- Ethnic and Religious Identity in Modern Scotland
I'm not sure yet if it will be of any use towards my thesis except for pointing me to other sources, but this one is turning out to be a fun, interesting read. The author, Joseph M. Bradley, examines the interplay of religion, politics and other cultural dividers in the Scottish soccer scene. The more general theme, that sports are an outlet or venue for public displays of group membership and political interests, invites speculation into the motivation underlying fan loyalty to teams in other sports, and in other places closer to home. I haven't finished it yet, but it's definitely recommended for anyone interested in fan cultures, British Isles history, or identity politics.

I'll hopefully get back to blogging again later this week, as this is a bit short, but it is way past bedtime. I always wonder if people actually read my blogs, and if so, what they think. Feel free to leave comments if you have any. You can also find me on twitter as mehoo80027.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

This Week's Media Highlights

Neil Byrne - a very sexy Irish singer, now one of the singers in Celtic Thunder. He's been involved with Celtic Thunder already as a musician and back-vocals, and obviously plays several instruments very well. His 4-track debut album, Sensitive Souls, was released in 2010, and he has been busily making more music since then. I do wish his debut album had been longer. His music videos for "Sadie Jones and I" and at least one other song are available on youtube and elsewhere and are well worth watching. "Sadie Jones and I" and the song on this video recorded with Declan O'Donoghue are both quite catchy and addictive.

Now that Netflix has it available streaming, I finally got my sister to watch The Secret of Moonacre. This is a fantasy film, starring Ioan Gryffydd as the uncle and new guardian of a newly orphaned girl. Unicorns, magical curses, and a family feud set the stage for the girl's quest to save the valley of Moonacre. It is family-friendly, and has plenty of moralizing, about pride and forgiveness, greed, and respecting the gifts of nature, but these morals are couched tolerably well in a beautifully rendered fairy story. The good guys aren't all good, the bad guys aren't all bad, and the orphaned fairy princess is not a helpless damsel-in-distress. Add in Ioan Gryffydd and this is definitely a great fantasy film.

Language in the British Isles, edited by David Britain. This book is great fun for any anglophile with a penchant for British accents. I'm sure there are other books out there that lay out British accents in systematic form, but this book is actually readable and enjoyable without a linguistics degree. I doubt I could reproduce a thick Scottish brogue just from reading a book, but armed with a book like this I might at least know what to listen for to be less inaccurate with my own phony accents.

Cyber Chiefs: Autonomy and Authority in Online Tribes, by Mathieu O'Neil. Any book about the Internet is bound to be a bit outdated after 2 years, and this one is no exception, but while it might need updating soon, the basic arguments are pretty sound. This author is looking at the patterns of authority and power within online groups, and uses several case studies including wikipedia. He examines different forms of authority that occur online, and the interactions between offline and online authority, along with the extent to which decentralized authority works out. After one read-through I am not exactly convinced of any of his particular arguments- much of what he says seems pretty commonplace, for one thing, and maybe an author who grew up with Internet would come up with different, more sophisticated analysis in some places. Still, understanding how people interact in virtual spaces might shed some more light on human nature in general, and this book is a good starting place for thinking about some of the issues in this area.

Friday, August 5, 2011

obsession and the lonely planet

My sister would attest that I am obsessed about Celtic Thunder and its current and former members, and for what she sees of me she is fully justified in her estimation.
I don't consider myself obsessed, though. I would love it if the people I hang out with in my own town were musicians performing Celtic music and covers along the styles of the Celtic Thunder singers, or singing in a more classical style along the lines of Josh Groban and Rhydian Roberts. Indeed, to the extent that the people I know are musicians and performing stuff I like, I am happy to be a local fan. Unfortunately no one I know actually performs in the styles that dominate my CD collection. And, I am not content with just listening to complete strangers singing, if my friends aren't able or inclined to sing to my specifications. I need to feel as if I at least somewhat know the people whose voices fill in the silent gaps in my days.

All this, I think, represents part of why it is increasingly necessary for singers to have a web presence, with facebook statuses they actually write themselves, and photos, videos or whatever else might help to create a virtual image of these people for complete strangers. It is not just a matter of providing fodder for the helplessly obsessed, though all my favorite artists have plenty of these fans. In a world where our longest conversations most days are with the people who sell us our cups of coffee or take our Taco Bell orders, we need some way to reconnect with people in meaningful ways. I consider the folks at my Taco Bell to be my friends, sort of, but if they switch jobs I am unlikely to ever see them again. I don't know their names, and I am sure most of them don't know mine. Granted, Josh Groban, Rhydian Roberts, Paul Byrom, Keith Harkin, etc., do not know my name and know absolutely nothing about me, but at least I know something substantial about these people.

It is certainly a one-sided relationship, but then again some of my romances have been almost as one sided by the time they ended. I know Josh Groban's dog's name, and have seen the pictures he posted of his dog, his residence, etc. But, I am certainly not a 'Grobanite', just someone who can sing along to all the songs on his albums, at least the ones in English. I know how old Rhydian is, and what he did professionally before he got onto X-Factor, and I rather enjoy listening to him singing in Welsh, which means I watch a lot of him on youTube, including his rare video blogs. I've seen a lot of solo videos from the Celtic Thunder guys, as well- Paul, Keith, Ryan and Neil- and know all sorts of random trivia about all the guys in that group. But, I am no groupie, and never could be. All of the guys I've mentioned are quite attractive, a fact I appreciate, but I can never lose sight of the fact that to them I am a complete stranger. But all this extra knowledge about these men coalesces in my mind into some semblance of real people I could interact with. They are far more real in that sense than the images I have of many of my facebook friends, even though at some point I have actually interacted with all of my facebook friends in person.

The real question I have is to what extent such virtual, one-sided interactions are replacing real in-person interactions. Given the prevalence of blogs, twitter, facebook, texting, etc., do people still hang out and talk with friends frequently? Are those conversations we do have meaningful? Do the people we barely know, who read our blogs or follow our tweets, know more about who we really are than the folks we see face-to-face? Is virtual communication an addition to the social lives we and previous generations enjoyed, or is the virtual world replacing all or part of our real lives?