The Bluegrass Grill

I took a few days off from my day job and am wrapping this project my sister from another mother suggested, a song for the Bluegrass Grill.  I heard my mother talk about the Bluegrass Grill and how it was a popular meeting place when she was young.  I did some investigating and found a menu online and wrote the lyrics over a few days.  The tune came easily.  The challenge was in writing the parts and figuring out how to convey the idea that cruising to the Bluegrass was a rite of passage for generations of teens.  Thanks to Audrey for the suggestion!  You can listen to it here and look for it on my next CD which I’m working on now…

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Civil Twilight

This is my first go at producing for another songwriter.  I met Carey Seward at the Fox and Goose in Sacramento.  Carey’s from Alaska and I was immediately struck with the quality of her songwriting and the uniqueness of her material.  She was only here for a short while so we chose to record two songs, Civil Twilight and So You’ve Been Told.

Civil Twilight was a term I’d never heard before.  It’s “is the brightest phase of twilight, when the sun is less than 6° below the horizon.”  It’s legal to drive without your headlights on in civil twilight.

Lyrics:

Winter sure was long and dark I felt the freeze in every part
fire burned down to the weakest little ember.
You can see right through me caving in and I wonder
what happened to all my friends
I’ve been down that hole since last November.

But I can hear the river ice a breaking
smash me up and carry me away
Icy water naked freezing shaking
with empty hands and debts I just can’t pay

Well the sun has turned it up to civil twilight
the dark ain’t gone, just waiting in the hall
so let summer burn it off, no I really don’t want to talk.
we can leave the lights off til the fall.

Verse2
Biking to the riverside the sun so bright nowhere to hide
we both are plump and pale and scared of other
supposed to have something to say but my mind is blank I’m not okay
I need meat and fire and beer and all my brothers.

For the orchestration I wanted to create a simple warm sound which I obtained with two alternating cello lines, one plucked and lower and the other a more legato line on top.  I wanted crisp clean cymbal sounds, a water dropping type of effect and a simple vocal harmony to reflect the awakening of spring and the fragility and tenderness of this piece.  I kept the bass sweet and simple as well.

Producing for another artist was a wonderful experience and gives me some options for what to do with myself further down the road.

Thanks Carey!
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Carey on Soundcloud

Carey on Bandcamp

Carey on Itunes

David Houston and String Theory

If you haven’t caught David Houston and String Theory, make it a point to get to one of their gigs.  I’ve nicknamed David, Professor Houston because his talent deserves that level of respect.  As a songwriter I have a particular affinity for wordsmiths and this man is a genius.  The way he turns a phrase will catch you off guard and open your heart before you’ve realized what’s happened and then here comes String Theory with a sweeping line to lift you out of the mechanics of the lyrics and into the job that music is meant to do –  move you to another level, another hemisphere, another view.  Several times during their performance I marveled that this combination is so powerful and effective.  It’s vibrational open heart surgery, hits you in the nostalgic area of your gut, but the strings and arrangement saves you. They hold you up, help you feel and keep you from falling too far down.  That’s the feeling of an open heart.

It doesn’t get any tastier than this delightful pairing of aural pleasure.  Solid song structure, expert musicianship and powerful lyricism that at one point brought up a few tears.  Now that caught me off guard, I can’t recall when a performance delivered that kind of punch, hence this post.  Kudos Prof Houston & String Theory, I look forward to your next gig!  Stay informed:  http://www.davidhouston.com

Photo by Carrie Jenkins.
Photo by Carrie Jenkins.
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Photo by Carrie Jenkins

Blurred Lines in the Music Business (Mimicry and Risk Aversion)

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Marvin Gaye’s family won the lawsuit to the tune of 7.5 million dollars.  So now Thicke and Williams have to pony up the loot. I’m a songwriter, a multi-instrumentalist and producer who strives for originality.  Now nothing in songwriting is purely original.  Most of us stick to the Western scale system and use I, IV, V as the root of our music.   Different formula’s for different styles but the fundamental platform in which we write a song has been an established paradigm for years.  So then what’s the problem? The business wants Mimicry! Repetition and for you to make it sound familiar!  One need only look to Glam Metal to see the obvious….lol.

IuAmz 

Making music is a huge business where ridiculous profits are possible (not probable for most).  Promoting the new and unique is akin to risk taking and like any big business, they’re risk averse.  They want to continue to reap profits from a proven method.  It’s understandable.  Fear of losing one’s paycheck is enough to incentivize them to want to err on the side of caution, so everything soon starts to sound the same.  Follow the rules, sound like someone popular, get to the hook fast, have production that sounds like the pro-sounds that the major houses put out.  One of the best examples of this is the Nashville sound, which has pretty much ruined country music.  The commercially produced music coming out of Nashville is sounding like pre-packaged meals, looks great on the outside, but inside it’s bland.  As long as the standard operating paradigm for the music business continues to be “do what has been done before,” we’ll continue to see judgements such as this.

We love songwriting for the framework, it’s like you’re given free range to roam within a certain set of rules and boundaries.  But there’s nothing new in the universe, so being creative is a challenge.  As a voice student, I was taught to never try to sound like anyone else, but to discover and cultivate my own sound.  The same approach applies to my songwriting craft.  I sonically isolate myself from popular music or even any music at all when I’m creating and let the words drive the melody.  Even with all safeguards, it’s still possible to end up with something that may sound a bit like something else.

To intentionally create music that sounds like something else flies in the face of true artistry, but we can’t help but wonder if the jury had really been peers of Thicke and Williams (meaning a jury of fellow songwriters) would the outcome have been the same?  I can easily distinguish the cowbell rhythm differences, and other major differences, but could the jury?

I use a submission service to place my music and I’d like to give you a little taste of my last rejection from Warner as it demonstrates this paradigm: “Hi Kally, First I want to say you are a true artist/writer.  I admire when an artist is not afraid to do something new.  The problem is, we work with straight middle America pop and RnB.  I wouldn’t know where to begin to place your project so for that reason, I have to pass.  If in the future I receive an opportunity that fits your style of music I’ll reach out to you.”  I’ll take the rejection over watering down my artistic integrity any day.

I’d be willing to bet that many artists get worn down over time and eventually bend to what the business wants, which is guaranteed profits.  It would be all to easy to sacrifice that integrity for the idea of “success” which is something every composer/producer must face.

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Two Days Gone

I’m terribly impatient.  I want to hold back until the whole CD is finished, but I can’t wait to share when I think I’m onto something.  I guess the great thing about being an indie musician/producer is that you don’t have someone telling you not to do something.  So here it is.  I typically close out my shows with Two Days Gone as it’s a natural fit.  I love to sing and play this song live.  And I admit to being somewhat twisted.  When I wrote this song, it was with the intent of writing the “complete” country-blues song.  It had to have certain elements (I think I even collected a list of these words before finally writing the lyrics), trains, a gun shot, lightning and a shack, red clay roads, Alabama and Memphis, family drama, someone in jail, someone in heaven, a bar, a hotel and a twenty.

The photo is by Pat Henson and can be found here: www.flickr.com/photos/80297647@N00/2275352946

Two Days Gone by Kally O’Mally
I got crippled back in Memphis when Bessie
shot me in the knee.
Lightnin hit our run down shack and I was
begging God to please, take me now I’ve had enough
I can’t take another day. So I packed it on up and took
the south bound train.

Whoa Momma’s gone to heaven.
Bessie’s all locked up in jail.
Papa ain’t been seen nor heard from for the
past fifteen years.
I’m sleeping here in this cheap hotel.
Girls in short skirts hanging out in the stairwell.
Down on my luck ain’t got nothing,
nothing to sell.

Chorus:
I’m two days gone, so all alone, no
dial tone on the telephone,
holes in the wall, no one to call, no one at all.

So I made my way to a bar named Sam’s
Deep down in southern Alabama.
Where the land is red and there’s fools a plenty
bought me some beer, spent the last of my twenty.
Gonna find me the reaper he’ll have plenty to sow.
Gonna pack it all up, it’s the end.
Gonna pack it all up, it’s the end, end of the road.