New band The Quartermasters has a deliberate air of mystery surrounding it – no photos and a cryptic descriptor like “indie supergroup” given on its official press. But listening to its debut single, “Catch On Fire” it’s clear that at least in this song, the music is unadulterated country music – nothing ‘indie’ about it!
But seriously folks, I don’t give a fuck about the labels – only the music and in that respect, it’s great to hear a Singapore band playing this kind of pop-rock music. Truth be told, I recognise a Charles J Tan song when I hear it – so mystery solved! Not that far removed from his solo work, which has a strong country-folk vibe running right through it.
Rock music is a genre of popular music that originated as “rock and roll” in the United States in the 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States. (W. E. Studwell and D. F. Lonergan, The Classic Rock and Roll Reader: Rock Music from its Beginnings to the mid-1970s)
So yeah, rock came from 40s/50s rock ‘n’ roll, which in turn is a form of pop music. So even The Carpenters or ABBA is rock, by that definition. So I am always comfortable to use the terms “pop” and “rock” fairly interchangeably, and get rather annoyed by the insane categorizations that is now so common.
In that light, let’s take a look at some of the different kinds of pop music, I am confident to label as ROCK!
Seems appropriate to start this series with Bob Dylan, doesn’t it? Considering that The Beatles are currently not on any streaming service, Dylan deserves top billing. After all, can one imagine talking about singer-songwriters without mentioning Dylan’s massive influence?
The man is the very definition of the modern folk troubadour but more than that, Dylan’s legacy extends to rock as well, of course. For me personally, I remember hearing Dylan on the radio when I was a kid – especially his well known early folk songs but I really got into his work (ironically enough) – with his controversial Christian conversion album Slow Train Comin’ (1979), which explains why I kick off the playlist with “Precious Angel” (which also features incandescent guitar work from Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler). Including “Make You Feel My Love” was necessary to provide Dylan’s continuing relevance as Adele’s cover version proved conclusively. The rest of the playlist focuses mainly on his seminal 60s/70s works. Enjoy!
Grammy-winning group, The Mavericks, announce the release of In Time, their first album in seven years. Here’s a tasty teaser – the panoramic Roy Orbison-channeling “Born to be Blue”. Rather brilliant.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, mostly known to fans as ‘CCR’ was a rock quartet whose singles were big radio hits during the transition period from the 60s to the 70s. As a kid, I remembering hearing their songs constantly on the radio and the secret of their success was very simple – basic rock ‘n’ roll infused with country, folk and soul inflections and not to mention the dynamic larynx of lead singer John Fogerty.
I remember getting hold of a cassette of Chronicle – which was subtitled “The 20 Greatest Hits” for good reason. Chronicle was that rare compilation where every selection was an unforgettable classic. No exaggeration to state that I wore out that cassette from the non-stop play and I would repeat the process over the entirety of the album. Now of course, the whole album is a firm fixture in my iTunes and still receives a regular play-through to remind what top notch rock ‘n’ roll is all about.
If I had to choose my top five from “The 20 Greatest Hits” it would have to be – Who’ll Can Stop The Rain, Someday Never Comes, Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Lodi and Fortunate Son – these tunes have been permanently burned into my consciousness. Add to the list, CCR’s fiery interpretations of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You and Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine and what you have is rock ‘n’ roll bliss.
I am sorely tempted to declare The King Is Dead – Portland’s The Decemberists’ sixth album – as the album of 2011. After the steady move into progressive rock territory in the last two albums, critics have described The King Is Dead’s change in direction as “accessible”. Well, not unless it was released in the 80s, I daresay! Is an album that sees Colin Meloy and company basically go country on us a commercial commodity in 2011? In the age of auto-tuned prefabricated pop and groin-directed hip hop?
Lead single, Down By the Water, makes the band’s intentions clear with a harmonica intro, not to mention guest performances from Peter Buck (REM) and Gillian Welch. Commentators have already noticed the songs’s resemblance to REM’s The One I Love (especially the chord progression). Buck also plays on The Calamity Song and is immediately recognizable in the guitar appregios – the track sounds like an outtake of an 80s REM album but it’s a welcome relief to hear such classic songwriting in the new year!
This LA-based singer-songwriter reckons that music and songwriting is in her genes, bequeathed to her by her late father. Which probably accounts for Drake’s classicist country-folk-roots approaches. Her songs are deceptively simple but they do contain that mystical quality us music writers like to call “soul”. An indefinable sense to discern art from commerce.
So why does the revisionist country-folk of Joe Pug raise in me mixed feelings? Pug (shortened from Pugliese) easily channels the specters of Johnny Cash, John Prine, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Neil Young and of course, Bob Dylan in his rustic folk exercises. So is this music something old or something new?
I must confess that nowadays, it takes quite a lot to get me down to a Singapore rock gig. But of late, I have heard some good things about Cheating Sons over the grapevine. Checking out their Myspace page, I was rather surprised to hear country-folk-blues-rock from this new band! Now that is something you don’t often hear coming from a Singapore band. So definitely, this is a band I need to check out!
And you and I can tonight! Over at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre, Cheating Sons will be playing two sets –
This self-styled “scumbag” country quartet loves to go back to basics, drawing inspiration from the original outlaw country singers (viz. Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, David Allen Coe, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson) and thus, is far removed from what passes for country music in 2010.
I mean, songs with titles like One Way Track Marks, Either Way We’re Fucked, Slow Suicide and Too Broke To Overdose, are not likely to be heard on country music stations anywhere anytime soon! I like it – it’s pure country (not alt-country, mind you) and there are precious little concessions to so-called indie rock sensibilities – its the rebellious attitude in the broken down lyrics that sets Hellbound Glory apart. Closer in spirit perhaps to the Flying Burrito Brothers than the Eagles, which is fine with me, Hellbound Glory is true blue country music, warts and all.
An epiphany! Just realized why it is that I have so much problems connecting with the “real” world of music and how “artists” like Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, Lady Gaga, Owl City et al make me wanna puke! It’s because I tend to get into marginalized singer-songwriters like Damien Jurado, who’s passion for music puts him into the shade rather than the spotlight.
Jurado is a profilic sucker as well, as Saint Bartlett is his tenth album since 1997. Uncompromising in his dedication to the true underground values of Neil Young, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan and Alex Chilton, Jurado is the quintessential artists’ artist having been supported in his journey by the likes of Ken (Posies) Stringfellow, Jeremy (Sunny Day Real Estate) Enigk and David (Pedro the Lion) Bazan, kindred souls all.
Saint Bartlett is produced by Richard Swift (another excellent singer-songwriter in his own right) and is filled to the brim with insightful, country/folk/blues/rock magic that will entice and enthrall those of you with the spirit of the counter-culture residing within you. So yeah, its not pretty, pristine and filled with sing-a-long tunes and politically-correct lyrics. But I would not want it any other way. Neither should you.
You may listen to Tillman’s new offering and discover that he’s a member of Fleet Foxes and go “AHA!” But to be fair to Tillman, Year in the Kingdom is his 4th album, and he had been releasing his own singer-songwriter-centric music before becoming a Fleet Fox.
Fact is, the music on Year in the Kingdom is pretty much able to stand up to anything the Fleet Foxes has released thus far. Yeah, that’s a compliment. This album is very much a stripped down affair, with Tillman only embellishing his acoustic guitar backing with the odd exotic instrument.
Sure, it’s all rustic and rootsy, with equal parts folk of the alternative ilk and Laurel Canyon variety. Early on in the album – title track, Crosswings, Earthly Bodies – Tillman recalls Bon Iver’s best moments (not a bad thing) but on Howling Wind – with its strings, honky tonk piano and pristine harmonies, Tillman heads straight for CSN country and never looks back…
It’s all good for fans of strident folk harmonies and the art of intimate songcraft. Recommended.
For any young boy growing up in the late sixties, the space race was an exciting one.
Yes, back then, the USSR and the USA were competing to see who would be the first to put a man on the moon. It seems so quaint now, but I still remember being positively enthralled even as an 8 year old boy in Singapore to watch Neil Armstrong take that first step on the lunar surface.
Lo and behold, that event is now 40 years past and Eric Brace, lead singer of country-rock outfit Last Train Home, has just released a single and video to celebrate and commemorate the first lunar landing. The single is available at iTunes and the video is below. Check it out.