Archive for August, 2016

Thursday music musings, 25.6.16

August 25, 2016

So, Blake Shelton is a homophobic, possibly racist douchebag? And his fans so blindly rush to defend him, talking about “social justice warrior bullshit” and the like? Quelle surprise.

But of course, this has nothing to do with social justice or political correctness and everything to do with him being a decent human being by not implying, among other things, that being gay is a bad thing and that people who don’t speak English are automatically terrorists. Shelton’s entitled to his opinion, but if he’s gonna come out and say asshole things out loud, I don’t understand why calling him out for such has to be decried as “social-justice warrior BS.” Like it or not, he is a representative of country music to the general public, and he needs to comport himself as such.

But the whole problem here is much, much larger than Blake Shelton making racist, homophobic tweets, or Jason Aldean dressing in blackface. I think it’s probably safe to say that mainstream country music in general, not just Blake Shelton, is catering to a different kind of fan anymore. People who want to constantly listen to songs about partying in a cornfield in front of a bonfire on a tailgate with a scantily-clad nameless girl because “that’s what they know” — the “boys ’round here,” one might call them — don’t really present themselves as any kinds of deep thinkers. Songs like George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning” or Aaron Watson’s “Bluebonnets” might as well be written in Portuguese for all those people are able to comprehend them, never mind a song like Jason Boland’s “Fat And Merry,” wherein he sings about “re-gentrify(ing) the shitty part of town.” It’s all shallow, ignorant music for shallow, ignorant people, who don’t know any better than to keep their mouths shut about said ignorance as opposed to putting it on display for all the world to see; for further evidence of this all you have to do is see the recurring Country TwitterFAIL feature at Farce the Music.

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I do love Suzy Bogguss, but I’d rather hear actual new music from her. I may be alone here, but I really don’t understand artists re-recording older hits, let alone entire albums. As I have put it elsewhere, I can count on one hand the re-recordings of older songs that were as good as or better than the originals, and they were all on the same album by the same artist.

(Billy Joe Shaver’s Tramp On Your Street, for the record; the songs were “Oklahoma Wind” and “Georgia On A Fast Train.”)

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This. This right here goes to the heart of my complaints about mainstream country music in general and Keith Urban in particular. Every — Single — Time Keith Urban talks about the evolution of country music, he points to — you guessed it! — countrypolitan. He has never said one word about the Bakersfield sound, the Outlaw movement, the Urban Cowboy movement and the fallout in the wake of that, the neotraditionalist movement of the mid-1980s, or the class of 1989. It’s always countrypolitan. You want to talk about the evolution of country music? Okay. By all means let’s do so. But let’s talk about all of it, not just the part of it that bolsters the argument in favor of the actual country music influences being pushed out in favor of influences from practically every other genre of mainstream music. To do otherwise, to focus on one era to the exclusion of all the others — as Keith Urban is doing and has done since day one — is incredibly self-serving, dishonest, and insulting. He’s insufferable enough as an artist as it is, but this just takes the whole thing into the stratosphere.

Friday music musings, 19.8.16

August 19, 2016

From the Houston Chronicle:

 “It’s interesting to see the diversity of what young people will buy…Obviously, things like Led Zeppelin or (Jimi) Hendrix. But Nat King Cole records sell really well to 20-somethings.”

Well, that’s something. People keep saying, “the kids don’t buy their grandpa’s music!” but as it turns out they do like it quite a bit. Not that it was a big surprise, but that’s still a really neat thing to see. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with that in the coming years, as “grandpa’s music” gets to be, say, Florida-Georgia Line. I mean, I like to think the people who like that crap will grow out of it and won’t be playing it for their grandkids, which means that it wouldn’t really be “grandpa’s music,” but one never knows…

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I heard somebody say that Chris Lane was a great singer. We might just have to agree to disagree on that one. He sounds to me like a Tim McGraw knockoff, only without the good songs, at least if “Fix” is any indication. Tim’s voice never was all that, but at least he’s had the sense to pick good, even GREAT, songs to record. But “Fix” is just hot garbage any way it’s sliced, and there’s little if any reason to expect anything else from him to be better — especially with him saying to Rolling Stone in a recent interview that “country music has room for a little bit of everything.”

And he follows that up with mentions of FGL, Sam Hunt…and Chris Stapleton.

HELLO! One of those things is not like the other, on a couple of different levels! Sam Hunt and FGL are just two different kinds of bad yet they score hits left and right, and country radio barely gives Stapleton the time of day! I mean, that’s not quite as ignorant as Kelsea Ballerini’s commentary on the state of country radio in relation to female artists, but it’s more than close enough for government work.

Also, I will say that it is rather gratifying to see Lane’s low album sales in relation to his radio airplay. I know album sales are getting to be less and less of a thing, but it’s good to see that people won’t give that dude their hard-earned money no matter how much “country” radio tries to force him down their throats. He sold 6,000 copies of his album in its first week in the stores, with “Fix” hitting No. 1 the week before its release. 6,000 copies…Jason Boland and the Stragglers’ latest album, Squelch, sold 2/3 of that in its first week, and they’ve never had a radio hit outside of certain regions in Texas and Oklahoma. And then, of course, there are the successes of the likes of Aaron Watson, Alan Jackson, and Jason Isbell, who all had Top 2 chart debuts with their latest albums as opposed to Lane’s No. 8, selling 26,000, 46,000, and 46,000 copies their first weeks on the charts respectively. And then back in September, the newest albums from Don Henley and George Strait came in at No. 1 and No. 2 as they both sold more than 80,000 copies each…yet again, with scant if any country radio airplay.

But “if you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist!” All righty then…

(Also…a cover of Mario’s “Let Me Love You”? Really?! WHAT THE…? The original version of that song sucked! We didn’t need a cover of it! I mean, yeah, Aaron Watson covered John Mayer on his last album, but at least it it was a decent song that sounded country, which is more than can be said of the Chris Lane monstrosity!)

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Oh hey, new Metallica…

Not bad, not bad at all. Pretty badass, in fact. It sounds a lot like …And Justice for All meets Death Magnetic — with much better production than either of those albums. I had heard Lars Ulrich quoted as saying Metallica’s forthcoming album would be “less frenetic” than Death Magnetic, and to be brutally honest, I did not find such encouraging at all; it’s not as if Death Magnetic was on the level of Kill ‘Em All in terms of speed and intensity. If this is what they’re going to define as “less frenetic,” I’m perfectly okay with that. According to other reports it’s going to be a double album with about 80 minutes of music. I am quite interested to see what the rest of it sounds like.

Thursday tech musings,11.8.16: BACK UP!

August 11, 2016

Hey you. Yeah, you. Got a few minutes? Well, take a couple of those minutes and go read these posts from Borepatch and ASM826, then come back here.

All right. Back? Good. Listen up.

They pretty much spelled everything out, but I cannot emphasize this enough: As the owner of your electronic gadgets:

YOU ARE YOUR OWN IT/SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR.

Here’s what that means in a practical sense, in more layman’s terms:

To put what ASM826 and Borepatch said in slightly different terms, every single electronic device you have is going to fail at some point. When this happens, unless you have the data backed up, there is a very real possibility of losing your data. Different backup options are available for you for whatever electronic gadgets you own, whether they be computers, phones, or tablets or some combination thereof. And if you call your gadget’s manufacturer, most likely they will be more than willing to tell you about those different backup options and even help you set them up.

But the gadgets DO NOT set themselves to back up on their own. You as your own IT/system administrator, AND YOU ALONE, are responsible for setting that up and making sure it is working correctly. Not your gadget manufacturer, not the salesman at the electronics store who sold you said gadget, and certainly not the tech support rep on the other end of the line when you call because you have a problem with your gadget.

Me? I have my phone (HTC One M7) backing up to remote servers (aka the ever-so-nebulous “cloud”) via a third-party app called Lookout. Every so often I import my photos taken on the phone to my MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro, in turn, I back up a couple of different ways: via the built-in Time Machine application to an external drive that I plug in periodically, as well as an online backup service called CrashPlan. $5.99 a month, set up your subscription, install the client on your computer, sign in with your username & password and as long as the computer is turned on and connected to the Internet, all your data is backed up to remote servers without you even having to think about it.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I will say this: I have had three Macs, and I have been very lucky with the first two in that I was able to yank the hard drive from the first one and manually transfer everything from it to the second computer via a USB-to-Serial ATA adapter. I did the same thing from the second to the third when the second machine shit the bed. Went off without a hitch both times. But that is absolutely not something I was counting on being able to do. I remember pulling the HD out of that first computer and connecting it to that replacement machine and thinking, “Man, I hope this works.” If it had not worked, if it had been the hard drive instead of the logic board that had crapped out on me, I would have lost, among other things, about 130 albums worth of music — most of which was ripped from cds that I had since lost, and thus would have been very difficult if not impossible to recover.Bu the time the second computer croaked, I had both my Time Machine backup and CrashPlan configured so I wouldn’t have to bank on it again.

Yes, I know. Data recovery is a thing. But it is a very expensive thing, whose prices often start in the mid three figures and often go into four and even five figures, and for that money you don’t even get a guarantee that your data will even be fully recovered (though, to be fair, you do get a money back minus diagnostic fee or something similar if they’re unsuccessful). Makes that $60 for an external backup drive and $5.99/month cloud service backup sound like a screaming good deal, doesn’t it? I see people asking in certain places, “My hard drive shit the bed, can anyone recommend to me some cheap, good, and fast data recovery software?”

And it drives me up the wall.

NO.

If it was important before you lost it you’d have spent the comparative pittance to back it up, and if it’s that important now, you’ll pony up for the recovery or write it off and take the damn consequences.

Thursday music musings, 11.8.16

August 11, 2016

So the Dixie Chicks sold out the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion this last weekend on their first United States tour in ten years, eh?

Bully for them, and for country music too. I sure as hell hope that’s at least some kind of indication that the mainstream country audience is ready for some semblance of real, substantive, actually COUNTRY music to return to the mainstream, because what we’re having to deal with as far as the mainstream goes these days makes me sick unto death. The late 1990s and early 2000s were far from any kind of golden age for country, but they were a damned sight better than what we have now. At least back then we still had George Strait and Alan Jackson; even with the decline in quality of Jackson’s output after 2002’s Drive, it was still miles ahead of any of today’s A-list stars.

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Speaking of George Strait, I thought it was a neat little surprise to see his sophomore album, Strait From the Heart, reviewed at Saving Country Music — and even more so to see it get a top grade. Now, I did (and do) think it’s a very enjoyable listen, but at least a couple of those songs did not age so well, particularly “The Steal of the Night” and “Lover In Disguise.” I thought he’d be a lot harsher on that album than he was, especially considering that the aforementioned songs were likely there due to the influence of producer Blake Mevis, who was pushing Strait in a more pop direction. Strait actually parted ways with Mevis as the next album was being put together and started over with a new producer. It was probably better for all involved, though, because I think that album, 1983’s Right or Wrong, was where Strait really hit his stride. “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together” is my all-time favorite George Strait song and has been such ever since I’ve been a fan.

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On another George Strait-related note, I’m pretty sure he’s mostly responsible for this:

Aaron Barker, the San Antonio native behind some of George Strait’s big hits, has been named to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that most of the non-Strait songs with Barker’s name on them were meh at best, but the songs that Strait recorded rank among the best of his career, particularly “I Know She Still Loves Me” and “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.” I’ve always thought the former was an underrated gem, and the latter would make my top ten of not just singles, but songs he’s recorded, period.

(And I don’t think I ever mentioned it till now, but I always thought “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” worked very well as a prequel of sorts to “The Cowboy Rides Away,” which in turn works quite well as a prequel to “Amarillo By Morning”…)

Wednesday music musings, 4.8.16

August 4, 2016

Brad Beheler at Galleywinter posts a fine tribute to Hastings, the Amarillo-based music store chain that’s on the verge of closing.

I certainly hated to hear it, myself. God knows I love the convenience of Amazon, but I have some quite fond memories of that place. I bought my first Texas music cds — from Pat Green, Cory Morrow, Owen Temple, and Roger Creager — at the Hastings in College Station. That was the beginning of my 15-plus years of digging this music. Spent a good deal more on OKOM in the next year and a half at that store, and later the one in Greenville. I’m sorry to see them go.

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I don’t know who was responsible for this, but it was well done, indeed.

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Aaron Watson exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Not bad for a guy who doesn’t exist.

Still, though, I keep thinking now of…

• The Band Perry, who seem to have gotten themselves a new major-label record deal in spite of making complete fools of themselves as artists; and

• Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, who got his own deal through Dot Records, a joint venture between Big Machine and the Republic Records unit of Universal Music Group…

…and how Watson told Saving Country Music that he shopped The Underdog to every label in Nashville, and as he put it, the album “wasn’t their cup of tea.”

I know that TBP is a known quantity, as is Steven Tyler even if he did make his mark in a different genre. And Aaron Watson, God bless him, has been ever-magnanimous and the consummate gentleman about his own situation, and it’s not like he’s in a bad place.

Still, though, I think all of this is a thoroughly damning commentary on the Nashville music establishment. And with Grady Smith leaving The Guardian, almost no one in the mainstream music press is calling any of this out for the BS that it is. Worse than that, even, to the extent that anyone is calling it out, they still don’t get it, as evidenced by the Washington Post calling Sam Hunt “progressive” and “forward thinking” and the Houston Press advocating that Beyonce be played on country radio when there’s so much other worthy country music from actual country artists being left on the table.

And it all makes me wonder if things are really going to get any better for the mainstream…