For months now live videos have been popping up online with a new song from Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, “R.E.M.”. It’s a tribute to the late great Athens, Georgia band, longtime friends of DnC, that uses not only a similar musical style but cribs the majority of its lyrics straight from R.E.M. songs, from “Gardening at Night” to “Fall On Me” and many, many more–I’m sure some R.E.M. fan has already documented them all somewhere. It’s a great song, and to my knowledge the studio version posted on Mark Bryan and Chucktown Music Group’s “Song of the Fortnight” series this week is the studio debut of the latest DnC lineup, featuring ex-Leslie Charlestonian Sadler Vaden on guitar. Click through below to hear the song and read a short interview with bassist Tim Nielsen and singer/guitarist Kevn Kinney.
Peter Cooper of the Tennessean is an excellent music journalist and a pretty good singer and songwriter who I have a great deal of respect for. Today he posted an opinion piece about the Grammys and how the show has pared down the number of categories it offers, cutting ethnic, classical, and instrumental categories, and his opinion seems to be that that’s a bad thing. Click here to read Cooper’s post, “Exclusivity May Suit the Grammys But Not the Rest of Us.”
Cooper says that pruning instrumental categories and other niche genres does a disservice to the musicians because:
“Grammy awards also help touring musicians to emphasize validity to concert promoters and to audiences. Want to go out and see another singer-songwriter? Maybe not. Want to go out and see a three-time Grammy winner? Maybe so.”
Here’s where he and I differ–I don’t think the Grammys were established to pad the resumes of musicians. Good music will find an audience no matter how many awards you can or cannot associate with the person playing it. Most of my favorite bands, and probably many of yours, never won a Grammy or any other award. If an artist needs a Grammy to validate what they’re doing, I’d suggest they are doing it for the wrong reasons.
I spent many years in music retail and from my admittedly limited perspective never saw much of a sales bump from the Grammys for anyone other than the major artists who performed on the telecast. To use one of Cooper’s examples, Alison Krauss, I sold plenty of her albums over the years, but mostly due to bluegrass fans who already knew about her or those who came to her music from hearing it on the radio…not because she has won boatloads of Grammys.
Cooper also says, “One of the Grammy Awards’ most appealing aspects has been the celebration of the gifted-but-marginalized, and this year that celebration was somewhat muted.”
Perhaps it was, since there were a lot less of them honored at the non-televised portion of the show, but for the vast majority of those who did tune in to the TV show, those awards would have fallen on deaf ears anyway. Let’s face it, the music-buying public is mostly tuning in for the lowest-common-denominator trainwrecks such as Niki Minaj. The fact that they occasionally get a Civil Wars or Avett Brothers probably results in more head-scratching and bathroom trip tune-outs than it does real exposure for those acts.
Music is fragmented now more than ever, and musicians ought to take a lead from politicians–shore up your base, play to them first, and if and when you get some momentum they’ll support you even if you make that unlikely ascent into the mainstream. Until then, play because you want to play, enjoy playing, and couldn’t do anything else even if you tried to stop.
Borrowing from Paste Magazine, which has done this recently for our Atlanta neighbors, here’s a list of ten new-ish bands from the Columbia, SC area that you need to pay attention to this year:
1. Can’t Kids: Adam Cullum from Magnetic Flowers used to have a band of his own that I really liked called Falling Off a Building. Can’t Kids are a different animal altogether from either that band or the Flowers, but the combination of raucous sounds and the cello of Amy Cuthbertson is powerful stuff (btw, drummer Jessica Oliver and I are NOT related, as far as I know). Check out their excellent EP on Bandcamp here.
2. Black Iron Gathering: Last year saw these guys making some real strides performance-wise, and they’re getting out more around the state and beyond this year, I’m sure. One of the best live bands in town right now, and their cover choices mixed into the shows has been inspiring, as on the clip below:
3. Dixie Dynamite: I love to tell the story about the first time I saw Dixie Dynamite leader Matt Goudelock playing live–it was as a solo acoustic opener for heavy rockers Isabelle’s Gift at a biker bar in Lexington County, where he had the tough-as-leather crowd eating out of his hand playing outlaw country covers. Goudelock brings that Waylon Jennings 4/4 stomp to his new band’s original music as well, making them a great hard country addition to the local scene.
4. Forces of a Street: Not a new band but one that’s been somewhat overlooked locally so far, I think. I posted just the other day about their label/promotional venture Post-Echo, which is plenty ambitious all by itself. Justin Schmidt and company are showing a wide array of sounds and styles on the new album Pro Icarus, from which the song/video below comes.
5. The Fishing Journal: the biggest buzz in town in 2011 surrounded this outfit featuring former Death Becomes Even the Maiden member Chris Powell and ex-Restoration drummer Josh Latham along with Mercy Shot bassist Reno Gooch. They’re poised for more of the same this year, as every live show so far has been well-attended and well-received.
6. Those Lavender Whales: The new album Tomahawk of Praise isn’t number one on the WUSC playlist right now for nothing, as Aaron Graves has a uniquely endearing outlook on life which comes shining through in his precocious-sounding indie-pop tunes. I fully expect this band to conquer at least the indie-rock version of the world soon.
7. Right To Fall: As generic and similar as most hard alt-rock is these days it’s hard to get excited about yet another seemingly over-testosteroned outfit, but these guys have something going on outside the usual stereotype. Jeremy Scott screams a bit, sure, but he also sings unusually well for a heavy band’s vocalist, forcing them to lean more toward melodic tension than simple sledgehammer riffs. Like their buddies in Obraskai, they also have impeccable taste in making music videos, as you can see in the clip below.
8. Post-Timey String Band: One listen to this acoustic duo’s throwback-sounding style and you’ll be hooked, if not dragged, into a previous century where girls were saucy and guys were dapper. Vaudevillian as they can be, and entertaining to a T.
9. By the Bull: Nick Brewer of The Memorials and other previous endeavors has a new hard rock trio, and like a bull in a china shop they’re poised to incur some serious damage. check out the short clips in this video just posted online:
10. Global Soul Revolution: the new vehicle of celebrated bassist Reggie Sullivan, even without hearing them yet I can guarantee this will be a band you’ll need to check out. With various jazz luminaries, his own Reggie Sullivan Project, and also until recently with John Wesley Satterfield, Sullivan is a class act who lights up any stage he sets foot upon.
Haven’t paid attention to American Idol in a long time, but this season there has been a South Carolina connection that has piqued my interest anew…contestant Elise Testone is from Charleston, where she plays with her band the Freeloaders. Testone also is/was a member of Columbia band Justin Smith and the Folk-Hop Band, which has issued a couple of excellent rock/hip-hop albums featuring her on some of the vocals. For those unfamiliar with Elise, here’s a video primer, starting with her AI group audition from tonight’s show and continuing with some live clips from Charleston and elsewhere:
ps: a friend pointed out to me just now that there is another contestant from South Carolina still in the mix, Candice Glover from St. Helena Island. She was on season 9 of AI but got cut earlier than the point she’s at now…so good luck to her, too.