Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What makes music "beautiful"?

Beauty is an extremely subjective term (and perhaps one I use all too often to describe my musical tastes). Personally, I find anything that really moves me to have some form of beauty to it, musically speaking. Whether that be an extremely well played overdriven guitar solo, the emptiness when the instrumentation falls out from beneath a female singer’s vocal to highlight just that, or the pain, grief and emotion that a songwriter shares with us no matter how dark those feelings may be. All examples of what I consider to be beautiful…just something that truly moves me in the moment that I hear it. Something that excites me and makes me want to listen to it again and again. Something that takes me out of my daily grind and sets my mind adrift in that realm of where the music was conceived, even if just for a brief moment. 

That being said…here’s my list of 5 musical things so far this year that I found to be particularly moving, poignant, and just plain old beautiful…

1)      The Milk Carton Kids. While it is true that TMCKs released their new record “Ash and Clay” in March of this year, I have really taken that deep dive into all of their previous material, solo and as a duo as a result of their Newport performance this summer. There is a graceful and faultless simplicity to their “two voices and two guitars become one sound” take on music. Their harmonies are absolute perfection and the differences in personalities, playing, and songwriting meld to create one remarkable musical body. Unadorned, unfiltered, and pure splendor. Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan find beauty in simplicity.

2)      Dan Baker’s new record “Pistol in my Pocket” was probably one of my most anticipated new records of the past…well, 2 years or so since I first met him and bought “Sad Song Junkie”. Baker asks for no apologies and bears all in his writing. He sings with an incredible amount of heart and desolation, so much so I just really FEEL what he is singing about. A guy who really sinks himself into his songs so much that regardless of the amount of autobiographical input, I truly believe his conviction (though, I think he sinks a lot of himself and his surroundings into this stuff). Dan Baker finds beauty in sincerity, passion, and heart through his music.

3)      I have probably mentioned this at least 1,000 times to folks I know, but Jason Isbell’s “Southeastern” is probably my favorite record of all time (and released just this year). A perfect blend of rock n’ roll, candid songwriting, and exquisitely depressing heartbreaking ballads, I honestly have not gone 2 days without listening to this record since it first fell into my lap. I think the mark of a great songwriter, versus a good one, is the ability to take your faults, your darkness, and really create something incredible out of it. That’s exactly what Isbell does in putting his demons out there in song. Jason Isbell finds beauty in acceptance and revelation; singing about the things that a lot of folks would rather bury in the backyard.

4)      The combination of Hayley Sabella’s voice and excellent finger picking…I picked up Sabella’s latest release “Farm Fingers” this year and reviewed it a few months back. I then went and saw her play a few times and she blew me away. The tone of her voice and the control that she has over it is unlike any other singer I have really witnessed. It's effortless but at the same time completely commanded. The intro to the title track is rich and full of layers, it builds and builds until it’s just a finger picked guitar and a voice to enter the actual “song”…such a clever arrangement. The “Easter Song” track is also a beautiful song. Sabella’s voice is just beautiful…that’s really all there is too it; oh, and she is a hell of a songwriter too. 

5)      Community…there are two very specific examples of what has really brought the incredible compassion and humanity of music communities in the North East in 2013. First, the amazing outreach from the Boston music community in the events of the April marathon bombings. What seemed like almost immediately following the atrocious acts was an outpouring of love and willingness to contribute anything to help those effected by the bombings. Recording sessions of classic Boston songs to contribute to the OneFund, benefit shows at a number of venues, the amazing collection of artists pulled together by Allston Pudding for their sampler, and the still ongoing support to drive forward funding for those in need of medical and financial help. 

The second being the outreach of the music family surrounding brown bird when David Lamb’s diagnosis was publicly announced. Being in the spotlight as a touring musician is a hard spot to be in when something like this occurs and the fans, friends, and community was anxiously waiting to help in any way they could. This was most evident for me at the Newport Folk Festival where fans could write a message and take a picture to show their love for Dave. I was brought to tears seeing the line of folks to send their love through this. We love you D.L. and can’t wait to hear the music you are working on and see you back out on the road and in good health!

This community of people has truly humbled me and that is a beautiful thing.

What makes something musical beautiful to you?

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