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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?