Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Last Friday and Saturday's (November 14 and 15) entertainment sections of the Nashville Tennessean were full of information on local music happenings.

If you wanted to see Smooth Hound Smith, or John England and The Western Swingers, or even Bill Lloyd and New Car Smell, the paper gave you the scoop.

However, there was no mention of the inaugural edition of Morsefest in nearby Cross Plains, the adoptive home of American progressive rock icon Neal Morse.

Although progressive rock has never experienced the heights of its early seventies heyday, there has been a resurgence of sorts over the last decade and a half, and in America, that resurgence was spearheaded by the bands Dream Theater and Spock’s Beard.

Two of the founding members of those bands were the featured performers at last weekend’s event, Neal Morse, who fronted Spock’s Beard through from 1995-2003, and Mike Portnoy, hailed as one of the top drummers in the world, who kept the beat for Dream Theater from 1985-2010.

The pair have played together for a decade and a half, releasing four albums as part of the celebrated progressive “supergroup” Transatlantic, two albums as part of the Beatles tribute Yellow Matter Custard, two covers albums as part of the trio Morse-Portnoy-George, two albums as part of the “pop-gressive supergroup” Flying Colors, and a half dozen albums with Portnoy behind the drum kit for Neal Morse’s solo efforts. Most of these releases were augmented by live albums and DVD’s documenting each tour, which gives the pair a pretty impressive catalog.

Morse left Spock’s Beard in 2003 to follow the calling of his Christian faith, and his music shifted from spiritual lyrics to outright Christian themes while keeping the progressive elements from his days with the Beard.

At one point on Friday, Neal confessed that he had fears that his audience would not embrace his Christian-prog. That was a well-founded fear, as I had concerns that his music would not deliver the goods. Fortunately, we were both worrying needlessly, as  Morse's post-Beard output is musically as melodic and complex as ever, and his lyrics sincere and profound-Morse wears his heart and his faith proudly on his sleeve-even the acoustic numbers deliver.

The Morsefest shows featured a performance of his first two solo efforts, Testimony and One, with One being performed in its entirety for the first time ever.  

Held in the auditorium of his church, the New Life Fellowship, the event drew an estimated crowd of 550, and although I made the trek from Arizona for the event, people came from all over the world, with a multitude of US states represented, as well as fans from our North American neighbors Canada and Mexico, from across the pond in England and Germany, from the south (South American, that is, Brazil and El Salvador) and even from the deep south (South Africa).

Friday night’s show featured the entire two-disc epic Testimony, with a forty minute encore of selections from the sequel, Testimony 2.

“This is my story,” Neal said at the start of the performance, which began with him walking to the stage from the back of the hall playing the acoustic song (Land Of Beginning Again)that opens the album, and over the next three hours and change, the fourteen piece band (I think I counted everyone) performed the compelling tale of his spiritual and musical journey.

Morse effortlessly combines hard rock, gospel, classical, country and contemporary pop into one imaginative, totally original work, which was a highly acclaimed album the year it was released, and made for an jaw-dropping performance, even though I’d watched a DVD of the original tour on my flight earlier in the day.

The story told is about Neal’s path to Christ, and the setting is fitting since the New Life Fellowship is where Neil found Christ-at one point in the performance he pointed out the actual spot just off the stage.

Saturday morning there was a worship service at the church where many gave their own testimonies, and all sang along in worship, and even fans who (in their own words) “were not that into it” seemed to be inspired. I spent a lot of time conversing with two church members (Larry and his daughter Heather) who were quite welcoming and interesting to talk to (and I must also mention that Heather obtained Neal's signature on the lyric book to "V" which I'd carried around a cruise ship for a week but did not have on me the two times I encountered Neal. Thank you again, Heather).

Saturday afternoon, fans were treated to an hour-long acoustic performance featuring songs from Neal’s most recent album. Neal’s brother Alan, co-founder and still guitarist for Spock’s Beard, was on hand for a rendition of an old Beard fan favorite, June.

It would have been understandable if Saturday night’s pre-show buzz was weaker than the night before, but the “crazy South American” fans were rubbing off on everyone. 

This show featured the first-ever performance of the Christian progressive concept album (say that five times fast) One, and in addition to the band from the night before, featured a guest violinist from the Nashville Symphony, guest vocalist Will Morse (Neal’s son), and for the encore, guest guitarist Alan Morse in a performance of the Spock’s Beard epic The Light.

The One performance also included tracks that did not make the album (originally included on a two disc limited edition) inserted back into their “appropriate” order in the story, which told of the fall of man from Eden.

I had not listened to this record in quite some time, and had forgotten how amazing it was, and again, this new performance was simply dumbfounding. By the end of the night, when the (seventeen?) performers took their bow after more than three hours, the audience was blown away.

The next morning in the hotel, new found friends said goodbye but affirmed plans to make the trek next year. E-mail addresses were traded and plans of other concert adventures were hatched.

The New Life Fellowship may have added a few hundred honorary members to their congregation, even if it may be a year between services.

So to the Nashville Tennessean, it’s a shame this event got by you. 

But I am sure that the New Car Smell show was newsworthy in its own right.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


It works pretty simply.

Two versions of a song, and you, the unsuspecting reader, pick the one you like best and say why in the comments.

This pointless exercise was brought upon us by these two bloggers:

Far Away Series


The rest of us followed them like lemmings to the sea:

Tossing It Out

Your Daily Dose

Curious As A Cathy

The Creative Outlet of Stratplayer

The Sound Of One Hand Typing

As I mentioned on my October 1 post, a lot of rock and roll guitarists cite Robert Johnson as a key influence.

As an itinerant musician who played mostly on street corners or in juke joints, Johnson saw little success in his lifetime.

Legend has it that Johnson sold his soul to Satan to obtain his musical talent, and his music has certainly endured.

A few years ago, Todd Rundgren recorded an album of covers of Robert Johnson songs, although he described this as "covers of the covers," since his inspiration was the rock guitarists of the sixties.

The song "Dust My Broom" was my favorite track on the album, and I'm going to give away my vote right now-it is also my pick of the two  versions.

Here then, is the Robert Johnson original. 

Try not to let the fidelity of the recording sway you-it was recorded in 1936 in a San Antonio hotel room.

And here is Todd's cover.

It was recorded in his home studio in Princeville, Hawaii (on Kaua'i-not bad for a guy from Upper Darby). 

A stark contrast to the sparse acoustic rendition of the original. Definitely versions for two very different listening moods.

By now, this should be old hat-comment, tell us which one you like and why.

Postscript-Monday November 17-

Just wanted to apologize for getting to your comments (and also your own posts) so late .

I was away for the weekend (attended Neal Morse's first Morsefest event).

Between problems with the hotel's Wi-Fi, eight hours of musical performances, a worship service at Neal's church, lots of discussion with fellow prog rock fans into the wee hours, flight time (and associated weather delays) between Phoenix and Nashville....and I even slept for a few hours...well I am just now getting to my PC. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Another recent discovery...

Monday, November 10, 2014


Another interesting article on the music industry, this one from The Detroit News: 

I've added a few of my own thoughts and comments in orange text...

Taylor Swift sold 1.287 million albums this week, and the music industry is in more trouble than ever.

Swift's new album "1989" sold more copies its first week than any album since Eminem's "The Eminem Show" during its debut frame in 2003.

That's great news. DiscConnected-Is it? In eleven years, no other artist sold more than Eminem? Not that I begrudge Ms. Swift her success or her moment, but the record industry should be cautioned not to think that this is a sign of a return to the "old days."

Album sales have been trickling off for years, and Swift's album proves that with the right star, the right marketing and the right timing people will still buy albums in droves. DiscConnected-Again, one album is not a pattern-and one album every eleven years is more like an outlier.  

Here's the problem. Swift pulled all of her music from Spotify this week, dealing a blow to the streaming service that is one of the industry's few bright spots and the model many are looking to as the future of music consumption.

It's not unusual for big artists to withhold their albums from Spotify to juice their first-week sales; Eric Church and Coldplay both did it this year, and enjoyed two of the year's biggest debuts. Those albums eventually showed up on Spotify, but the Swift case is more severe. She's the first star of her caliber to outright yank her catalog from the service over money issues. Since she's music's biggest star, it's cause for concern that others could follow.

 "I'm not wiling to contribute my life's work to an experiment that I don't feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music," Swift told Yahoo! this week. "And I just don't agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free."

DiscConnected-not sure I agree with Ms. Swift here-radio has always been free, so has TV. You paid for cable to get TV without commercials-isn't the Spotify premium service the same model?

Plus, although Ms. Swift is cute as a button, either she or her management team are not demonstrating forward thinking. In the long run, as CD sales continue to decline, the streaming revenue streams will be the only revenue stream. Isn't something better than nothing?

Music sales have trended down for more than ten years. Maybe artists will have to accept that the future revenue streams are not going to be the same as the CD revenue streams of the 80's and 90's, when everyone in American replaced their vinyl record collection with CD's.

The current generation does not collect like my generation did. Young people consume music in different ways by utilizing new technology. 

In my lifetime, a slew of industries have come and gone, and the people who were able to weather those changes adapted.

Spotify is a Swedish-based streaming music service that launched in the U.S. in 2011. From a consumer standpoint, without exaggeration, it's the greatest thing that has ever happened to music. It puts the history of recorded music, give or take a few artists — the Beatles, Bob Seger and AC/DC are notable holdouts — at your fingertips at all times. No more need for CDs or downloads or iTunes' cumbersome software. For music fans, it's nirvana. (And yes, Nirvana is on there, too.)

DiscConnected-Spotify has a comprehensive selection-if I did not already have my collection, I'd probably be on Spotify.
Spotify has a free model and a pay model; of its 40 million U.S. users, about 10 million of them are paid subscribers, according to the company's latest figures. The free version has ads, the pay models don't. For $9.99 a month, users can enjoy all the music they want, anytime and anywhere, and they can proudly count themselves among those who still pay for music. (And at $120 a year, they're spending about triple what the numbers say the average consumer pays for music on an annual basis.) DiscConnected-I feel good when I keep it to a $120 a month....

Artists are not as keen on Spotify, however. Despite the company's insistence that it pays 70 percent of its revenues to rights holders, artists complain they receive a fraction of a penny for every stream. DiscConnected-the author states this is a problem. Is it? Without knowing the costs involved in maintaining their technology, maybe a 30% margin after licensing costs is not excessive.  Spotify still has payroll, rent and other administartive costs, and is entitled to a profit.

That's a problem, but as a subscriber, it's not my problem to solve. It's something that needs to be worked out between Spotify, the labels and the artists. DiscConnected-wow-that almost sounds like a free market, capitalist America? Note to self-call Obama-the music industry needs a bailout.

Despite anomalies like Swift's blockbuster sales, CDs aren't coming back. DiscConnected-it is a concern to me that players are getting harder to find. How long before you cannot get a player for your car or home? CD drives are no longer standard in computers. What if you have 20,000 CD's with no CD player?

Downloads are also dead; too much hassle. DiscConnected-says who? What was the hassle, exactly?  

That leaves streaming. It's the model the people have chosen, and we consumers play a pretty important role in this process. People are willing to pay for a good product, that's been proven.  

DiscConnected-the author at times makes it sound like we as consumers have some sort of obligation to support streaming services.

If Spotify is sharing the ad revenue with the artists, isn't that the same as sharing the premium subscription fee?

It also amazes me how quickly the other formats have been abandoned.

Are downloads really dead?

Wasn't the demise of the CD hastened by the industry due to the additional profit on downloads? I pay ten bucks for a CD versus ten bucks for a download.

Do not try to tell me that the cost of getting the CD manufactured and mailed to Amazon or Best Buy and then into my hands is not substantial enough that a record label would prefer I purchase the download. The price point on a download has never made sense to me.

I am not so sure that downloads are down because people prefer streaming-I wonder what consumption would look like if the "free" options on Spotify, Rhapsody and Pandora went away.

But there is no question that the business is changing (again? still?) and that artists and labels need to embrace what the public wants.

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
-Neil Peart

Saturday, November 8, 2014


I found this article on the state of the music industry in Japan interesting...

From New York Times Online-read the whole article HERE

Around the world, the music business has shifted toward downloads and streaming. But in Japan, the compact disc is still king.

On a drizzly Sunday afternoon recently, Tower Records’ nine-level flagship store here was packed with customers.

Japan may be one of the world’s perennial early adopters of new technologies, but its continuing attachment to the CD puts it sharply at odds with the rest of the global music industry. 

While CD sales are falling worldwide, including in Japan, they still account for about 85 percent of sales here, compared with as little as 20 percent in some countries, like Sweden, where online streaming is dominant.

“Japan is utterly, totally unique,” said Lucian Grainge, the chairman of the Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music conglomerate.

That uniqueness has the rest of the music business worried. Despite its robust CD market, sales in Japan — the world’s second-largest music market, after the United States — have been sliding for a decade, and last year they dropped 17 percent, dragging worldwide results down 3.9 percent.

Digital sales — rising in every other top market — are quickly eroding in Japan, going from almost $1 billion in 2009 to just $400 million last year, according to the Recording Industry Association of Japan.

Turning Japan around has become a priority for the global music business, which has struggled to regain its footing after losing about half its value since 2000, when digital technology began to disrupt the album-based business model.

But accomplishing change has been difficult, according to analysts and music executives in Japan and the West, in part because of a protectionist business climate in Japan that still views the digital business with suspicion.

Streaming music services like Spotify, widely seen as the industry’s best new hope for new revenue, have stalled in efforts to enter Japan. 

Peculiarities of Japan’s business climate have shaped its attachment to the CD, but cultural factors may also be at play, like Japanese consumers’ love for collectible goods. 

Tower Records closed its 89 American outlets in 2006, but the Japanese branch of the chain — controlled by NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest phone carrier — still has 85 outlets, doing $500 million in business a year.

In the United States, digital sales have long since overtaken physical ones. But CDs still account for 41 percent of the $15 billion recorded music market worldwide, and, in addition to Japan, some big markets like Germany remain reliant on CD sales. That attachment worries some analysts, who contend that if those countries do not embrace online music, an inevitable decline in CD sales will further damage the industry.

Friday, November 7, 2014


My friend Glenn, who handles merchandise for Spock's Beard and the annual Rites Of Spring progressive rock festival in Gettysburg (ROSFest) also does merchandise for the Travis Larson band, who he turned me onto when I saw him in Chicago recently (at Progtoberfest, as if there were not already enough references in that sentence).

Glenn does all this in addition to his family and day job responsibilities, and I need to take a nap just thinking about it.

But here are a couple of clips to introduce you to the Travis larson Band....

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Let's make this brief and to the point.

Two versions. 

One song. 

You pick one.

If you think this is foolishness, these are the delinquents who started the insanity:

Far Away Series


If you like the idea, check out these enlightened blogs:

Tossing It Out

Your Daily Dose

Curious As A Cathy

The Creative Outlet of Stratplayer

The Sound Of One Hand Typing

Before he changed the music business in 1975 with Frampton Comes Alive, Peter Frampton was a featured player on another classic live album, Humble Pie's Rockin' The Fillmore.

The closing song on that 1971 album is "I Don't Need No Doctor," an FM radio rock staple that showcases Frampton's exceptional guitar talents. 

The song fell short of the top 40, peaking at #73, but has become the band's signature tune.

Here is that classic rock gem.

Now what many do not know is that the original version of this song was released a few years earlier (1966) by Ray Charles. 

The song was written by Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson and Jo Armistead. 

Interestingly enough, Charles' version stalled one position below the Humble Pie version, at #74. 

Here is Ray's original.

This version is really not meant to be part of the BOTB, but I thought you might find it interesting to know Styx also covered the song on their 2004 release, Big Bang Theory, although they are clearly covering the Humble Pie arrangement.

You know the drill, comment, vote, I'll mock your choice and basically one tune will win, although there's no prize for winning.

I'd say we'd take the losing band out and have them flogged, but both Steve Marriott and Ray Charles are reading this right now from the afterlife, wondering why the heck I think I'm so amusing.