BillyRadd Music

Monday, June 20, 2011

OK Go 180/365 = FUN!

OK Go!
Ok, I will.
This is my first album review, and it may be my last.  The reasons I’m writing it are two fold.  First, I might not even know about the digitally hip American rock group OK Go except that my youngest daughter, Samantha, is employed by their record label, Paracadute, and has been for about a year.  They even gave her a credit on this, their latest album, 180/365.  Nice.
Second, I think their music is really cool which, as a seasoned citizen, I need to explain a bit later since OK Go appeals mostly to those of a much more recent vintage. 
Plus, one more reason I think OK Go is way cool is that they produce great music videos that stand alone as exemplary of the entire genre of music videos (we’ll call this the Reason I Like OK GO 2a, since it’s not a great point except that I had seen their video popularly named the Rube Goldberg Machine Version for their song This Too Shall Pass released in January 2010. The YouTube video was forwarded to me by a good friend who knew that I had worked as a special effects Director of Photography for a video production company for some years because he thought it was FUN.  It was and is).
Each OK Go video is creatively unique and worth watching even with the sound turned all the way off, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  My point is that the video stands alone as Pop Art, Op Art or Mop Head Art, whatever. Art.
Anyhoo, I think OK Go’s new album 180/365, 15 cuts recorded live at venues all across the US, deserves a critical listen even for someone as gray and tarnished as myself because it is very FUN.  That’s it and that’s all.  Why do I think that?  Because I know FUN when I hear it.
As a rockin’ and rollin’ child of the 60’s so-called British Pop Invasion I was aurally inundated by twanggy vibes from slap-happy groups like The Who, The Kinks, Manfred Mann, Herman’s Hermits, The Dave Clark Five, The Beatles, The Stones, and yes, even the sour-faced Yardbirds. Just their names were FUN. Like most of my generation, I didn’t consciously realize what hit me.  Peace and Love, Flower Power, End the War, yeah, yeah, yeah, groovy and FUN!  This OK Go album reminds me of all that.
So, in my mind, Ok Go’s 180/365 equals just plain FUN - funny, soulful but irreverent, musically simple but original, entertainingly toe tapping, funky and trippy, driving but sensitive, now and then, here and there, and the voice of the future with the smell of the past.  I just regret that I wasn’t living in Asheville when they played here at the Orange Peel last November. I might even have gotten the award for being the oldest member in their audience (or a back-stage pass, even better).
This very live newest release makes me think a thought that I haven't thunk for many years - I wish I was them.  I just simply like to listen to it.  Cowbell in a little ditty called WTF?  I ask you, what could be more FUN?  More cowbell?  Maybe.
So, OK. Go get the album 180/365 and have some FUN.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Woman on a Mission

Autumn, Asheville's Guitar Mama

Autumn has a great story on her web site about the evolution of her music store, The Guitar Mama, on legendary Haywood Road in West Asheville.
It all began when, as a thirteen year old-to-be she asked for a guitar for her birthday - more particularly, an electric guitar with an amp.  Autumn’s mom took her to a music store, and it changed her life forever.  After her first guitar lesson she went home and almost immediately took all the screws, springs, strings and other shiny bits off the instrument.  Her second guitar lesson was putting the thing back together.
Two years later Autumn was offered a job at the same music store, Tempo Music Center, and worked there for nearly a decade.  During that time she apprenticed for nine months under David Simmons of Simmons Guitars, to learn the skill of a luthier (building and repairing stringed musical instruments).  
At age 18, Autumn started her own business, and five years later went to work for Simmons Guitars full-time building high-end electric basses for two years.  
Then, a bit over a year ago, she opened her own retail sales and repair shop in West Asheville, The Guitar Mama.
The Guitar Mama is not a luxurious place to visit, but if you play guitar it certainly has a rustic rocker charm all its own.  Autumn, usually working hard at something stringed in the back room, hustles out to greet any customer upon entering with a typically friendly but curious, “What you got?”
In my particular case, my last visit was to bring her my little old Fender Duo Sonic short scale guitar that I bought for $60 in Hollywood when I was a college student there in the early 1970s.
“What can you do for this neglected gem?” I chided her, knowing of her interest in breathing life back into abused stringed instruments.
She grabbed the guitar from me and began to play the old strings with great energy, testing for weaknesses, playability and strengths underlying its dirty uncared-for exterior appearance.
“The strings haven’t been changed since I bought it in 1971,” I admitted with a nervous laugh.  This is like a visit to the dentist with popcorn remnants between your teeth, I thought.  Maybe I should have cleaned it up a bit before I brought it in.
It’s not in too bad a shape,” Autumn said, not glancing up from her continuing scrutiny. 
“These are pretty cool little guitars,” she added generously.  
Let’s face it.  This woman probably sees around a hundred guitars a month go through her shop and she said my particular model is pretty cool.  Does that make me pretty cool, too, since I own it?  Er, no.  She didn’t say that.
“How about if I change the strings, set it up for you, clean the volume and tone pots, and clean up and polish the fret board?” she offered.  I hadn’t even noticed that the rosewood fretboard was pretty soiled from years of potato chip-oil-infused fingers attempting chords from about the 12th fret up the neck to the nut.
“That would be way cool,” I managed to blurt out in a feeble attempt at musicians’ lingo.
“I’ll have it ready to pick up on Friday (two days!) and it will be fifteen dollars,” Autumn said with a practiced clip as she returned the little Fender to its gig bag and efficiently made out a work order, a copy of which she handed to me.
“Well, thanks,” said I. “But that doesn’t include the strings, right,” I offered.
“Strings included,” she said over her shoulder as she scurried away to her back work room with my unkempt little baby.
“Wow,” was all I could manage to say.  Fifteen dollars including strings.  Does Autumn run some kind of guitar charity, I wondered?
There was another fellow in the store at the time.  He was a guy about my age and I don’t know if he works there or was a customer just browsing the store. But, as I headed for the front door past him, he said, “Don’t bother trying to give her a tip, either.  She won’t take it.”
This afternoon I stopped by The Guitar Mama to pick up my Duo Sonic.  Autumn was working away, as usual, stringing an acoustic vintage guitar.
“Got your guitar finished,” she said with a smile.  “You might be interested to know that the Fender electronics in this Duo Sonic are from 1964 so it was probably manufactured in 1964 or 65." I was a junior in high school in 1964!
“That’ll be ten dollars”, she added.
“Ten dollars?  I thought you told me fifteen,” I responded with surprise.
“It wasn’t as bad off as I thought, so just ten dollars,” she said.
Guitar Mama?  No, no, no.  Guitar Saint, or Guitar Goddess or Guitar . . . , what?
I’ve never run into anyone else like Autumn, especially in a guitar store.
You’d better check her out.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Djembe Fever

A Handmade Piece of Africa

First, a bit of background is in order.

A typical modern handmade djembe in an individual work of art crafted in West Africa from the wood of the Lenge tree due to its acoustic and spiritual qualities among the Malinke people, whose traditional philosophy states that nyama (spiritual energy) is present in all things, whether living or dead, but many other types of hard wood may be used, depending upon those available to the drum makers. Some West African hardwoods used for musician-quality djembes carved in Mali, Senegal, Guinea, and Côte d'Ivoire include djalla, dougi/dimba, khari/hare/gueni, and acajou.

The djembe's drum head, located on one end only (the large end), is traditionally made of the shaved skin of a goat, but cow hide or antelope skin is sometimes substituted.

Prior to the twentieth century, the skin was commonly attached with animal sinew or intestine, or by stretching a cut strip of rawhide. But, today many synthetic materials have replaced the original organic materials traditionally used to make djembes. The good news is that many modern incarnations of the drum still retain the sound and esthetic qualities displayed in the original models.

Anita bought her djembe, made in Côte d'Ivoire, a few weeks ago and she has graciously allowed me to practice on it as well. We also purchased one of our drum teacher Billy Zanski's practice DVDs to work out with since it really helps us to get into the groove of the West African rhythms while reviewing the correct techniques.

One of the things I always notice after a few moments of banging away on the djembes, whether Anita's personal model or the ones that Billy Zanski of Skinny Beats Drums lets us use for lessons at his shop, is the smell of the goat skin drum head. It has a definite kind of "gamey" smell that took a bit of getting used to over three weeks of classes and practice.

But now, I have to admit that I kinda like that goat skin smell since I relate it to learning a new instrument (new to me , that is). It is said that each djembe contains three spirits: the spirit of the tree it was carved from, the spirit of the animal from which the drum head is made, and the spirit of the instrument maker. The djembe that Anita bought (a colorful detail of which is pictured above) has the maker's initials B.T. MS. along with the date it was made clearly painted on the inside of the drum at the base.

I like that a lot, too.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Kon Tiki Retro Bop

As we lumbered down the stairway to the level ground below the Wedge Brewing Company in the River Arts District of Asheville, I began to hear a familiar lilting tune, and one that brought back many happy memories from my idylic youth:  Quiet Village by Martin Denny.  My wife, Anita, myself and our friend, songsmith Neil Laurence were about to sample the mellifluous delights from the group called Kon Tiki, a local quartet  made up of Lin Llewellyn, songbird on uke, Lora Pendleton on string bass, singing, monkey and birdcalls, Russ Wilson handling percussion, tenor guitar and singing, and, the Man of a Thousand Songs, Hank Bones on guitar, steel guitar, cornet, marimba, and crooning.

The weather in Asheville has been unusually hot and humid for this time of year but Kon Tiki's happy melodies washed over the sweating but appreciative audience like a cool, offshore breeze. Seemingly unaffected by all the heat, the smiling members of Kon Tiki meted out lighthearted tune after sunny song that would make anyone "forget your troubles, c'mom get happy".

Fun.  That's the best way to describe the experience of their toe-tapping play list of old favs and original lighthearted material.  One Meatball, Sweet Leilani, On a Coconut Island, South Sea Island Magic, and Rum and Coke are just a few of the classic tunes in Kon Tiki's exotic bag of musical tricks.  Just like their myspace page says, it's like an evening on the Beach at Waikiki.

With influences like Martin Denny, Harry Owens, Ray Kinny, Johnny Pineapple, Sal Hoopli, King Benny Nawahi, the Andrews Sisters, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Hoagy Carmichael, what's not to like?

I've heard that Kon Tiki performs live at Wedge Brewing Company every Wednesday evening and, with no cover charge, just great homegrown Asheville beer, the very live entrainment provided is certainly a musical bargain.

But, you might want to feed Tiki head on the floor in front of the band with some well-deserved cash offerings from time to time to show your appreciation AND keep the Tiki head's curse off of you.

Go, and see Kon Tiki for yourself, if you know what's good for you, that is.