The artists don’t know, but the consumers understand…

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Paul McCartney. Garth Brooks. Neil Young. Not a clue among them. They each think they’ve built a better mouse trap, as it pertains to getting digitized music to their fans. They haven’t.

The Walrus has decided to follow Bjork, Lady GaGa and Jay-Z by selling his albums as apps. Never knew about the others? Precisely. How many McCartney fans do you think are going to want to bust out their iThingys to groove to “Frozen Jap”? Not many, I’d wager. And I can think of many more that would rather Macca stop chasing technology and instead concentrate on getting the rest of his remastered catalog out on old-fashioned physical media. The Beatles catalog – arguably much more important and groundbreaking than his solo material – came out all-at-once. Led Zeppelin’s expanded remasters will likely be all out within one year. McCartney’s solo remasters, however, have been trickling out since 2010 at such a glacial pace we’ll probably get Tug of War after either he or his last fan dies.

Garth Brooks recently announced he was coming out of touring/recording retirement – and also dropped the surprise that his catalog would finally become available digitally. But before you run over to iTunes, Amazon or Spotify, you might want to get to the part where he says that garthbrooks.com will be the only place you can find it. Also, it will only be available as full album downloads, not track-by-track, which was the sticking point in his brief negotiations with big, bad, convenient Apple. No word yet if there will be streaming available on his site as well, but if it is I’d bet it’ll be album-only as well, and probably with no fast-forward ability. Wanna hear “The Dance”? Hope you have 10 tracks/33 minutes to spare…Garth’s musical integrity must be left intact!

I’ve already detailed Neil Young’s pre-occupation with starting his own audiophile music delivery service here, so I won’t go into it at this juncture. I only mention it again as yet another example of artists thinking they know what’s better for us – or conjecturing that we don’t know any better.

I feel the listening public has largely spoken, and their preference is clearly for Spotify and YouTube in the streaming game, and iTunes in the dwindling download market. Lossy audio files are evidently not an issue, by and large, and for those that do have an issue there are services like HDTracks and Qobuz that sell better-than-CD quality downloads; there’s the new hi-def flavor of the month: Blu-ray Pure Audio; or, for now, there is still the ever-evaporating CD.

As for artists like Young and Jack White who want to try and school the listening public on how things *should* sound – yeah, good luck with that. Ol’ Garth should realize that millions of folks love his music, but don’t necessarily love ALL of his music, and they shouldn’t have to be force-fed “Alabama Clay” if they just want “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)”. And, let’s be frank, there’s no Side 2 of Abbey Road in Brooks’s pantheon – or even McCartney’s solo work, for that matter.

Gentlemen, your collective passion is duly noted. Now, please, just direct that passion toward getting your work available to the masses the way they want to consume it.

Songs for (my) New Depression…

UNEMPLOYMENT

Yep, still here.

Been a while since I posted, I know, and as much as I’d like to call it a “Spring Break”, it really wasn’t.  It was more like my head getting in the way of my ears (and fingers, as it were).  Life simply got in the way.

I’ve been unemployed now for over a year – just hit 16 months, actually – and the doldrums firmly took over.  The soul-sucking job hunt (if I hear “over-qualified” one more time…), the fruitless attempts at entering a different line of work (if I hear “under-qualified” one more time…), the joys of unemployment insurance, and a do-nothing, virtually incompetent Congress intent on eternally freezing extensions and insisting the unemployment rate is forever at a “new low” (yet I know five people in the same boat, and they know five people, and so on…); it all just sapped my creative flow.

But, what did not weaken was my thirst for music.  Now, granted, I can’t just buy anything on a whim like I used to – at least not until gainful employment re-enters my life – but I have been revisiting and rediscovering old “friends”, along with some new ones (new to me, anyway).

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The one indulgence I budgeted for was the recent spate of Led Zeppelin reissues.  I opted for the 2 CD Deluxe Editions, since I am not a vinyl regressor, and the term “high resolution” when being ascribed to “Classic Rock” is an oxymoron akin to “Jumbo Shrimp”.  I have read both glowing and harsh reviews, and personally lean toward the glowing end of the spectrum.  I think the sound of the albums proper are the best we’ll ever get out of those old tapes – and in the case of Led Zeppelin III, so vast an improvement that it reversed my previous ho-hum opinion of the album in one revealing listen.  The bonus concert appended to Led Zeppelin I is horrible in sound and adds virtually nothing to the proceedings.  The bonus disc of Led Zeppelin II contains interesting alternate takes (“Ramble On” is probably the best of the lot, while “La La” is blah blah), though I’ve yet to afford them multiple listens.  Again, Led Zeppelin III is the surprise winner for me, with a bonus disc of almost a complete alternate album, some takes bettering their original counterparts, an electric forerunner to “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” (“Jennings Farm Blues”) and a superior “Keys To The Highway/Trouble In Mind” that could have easily replaced “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper”.

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I’ve also been (re)discovering the Average White Band.  After reading about their upcoming UK complete albums set, I ventured over to Spotify to try and flesh out my AWB knowledge, which currently consumes one unit of space on my shelf in the body of their 2 CD Definitive Groove collection.  What I’ve fallen in love with – yes, LOVE – is their under-appreciated late-’70s/early-’80s output, from roughly Warmer Communications through Shine (though I could encompass large swaths of Soul Searching and Benny and Us too).  My personal favorite is the self-produced, Bahamas-recorded Feel No Fret, which adds a contrasting loose, palpably Caribbean vibe to their tight, above-average white funk. (Side note/request: I really hope Demon/Edsel gives their catalog a minty-fresh, quality remastering for the upcoming box – the 2009 reissues I’ve heard are all over the place sound quality-wise, with some horrible, heavy-handed noise reduction applied to many tracks on the AWB and Cut The Cake albums.  Can’t blame the quality of the master tapes, as the mid-’90s Atlantic/Rhino remasters are pretty much across-the-board very good to excellent.)

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Little Feat is another band that largely passed me by, but again, the release of their own complete albums set in Europe and the accompanying fanfare led me to Spotify to correct that oversight.  And what I discovered was the more founder/guru Lowell George ceded control of the band’s direction, the more I loved their output.  The sweet-spot for me lies between 1974’s Feats Don’t Fail Me Now and 1977’s Time Loves A Hero, though you could tack on the Billy Payne-led tracks on Down on the Farm and Hoy-Hoy‘s “Gringo” for good, smooth-yet-funky measure.  Now I know why I loved Robert Palmer‘s early albums (especially 1976’s Some People Can Do What They Like) so much – this was largely his backing band.

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Ned Doheny is an almost mythical figure in the annals of Southern California rock music – his surname alone graces a mansion, a road and a beach in the Golden State.  With a promising start as the first signed artist to David Geffen’s legendary Asylum Records (eventual home to The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and even Bob Dylan for a short time), his albums generally did not sell.  But I discovered his second and third albums, 1976’s Hard Candy and the 1979 Japan-only release Prone years ago, and apparently his contemporaries took notice too, as Doheny-written tracks were subsequently recorded by Average White Band, Chaka Khan and others.  Chicago-based reissue label Numero Group has attempted to put his career in proper prospective with Separate Oceans, a collection of key album tracks and 11 previously unissued demos.  Personally, I feel Hard Candy and Prone in full are a better representation of his largely unsung talents, but Oceans is an enjoyable listen nonetheless, and kudos to Numero for injecting such care and attention into this relatively fringe artist.

So, there you have it: the sounds of my recent funk, which included some actual funk.  My goal is to continue updating this blog at least once a week from here on out.  Hopefully, the next extended break is due to actual, honest-to-goodness employment getting in the way…