Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Edition 100 of the Nighthawk Music

This is the 100th post for Nighthawk music so instead of my usual content I thought I might reflect on what this blog symbolises, what music I've been listening too and what music I want to listen to. I thought I might also reflect on where music has been and where it's going and some of the trends that I'm seeing in my neck of the woods.

I've been listening to a radio serial called The Songs that Shook The World on Radio National, what struck me was that in a short period of time the art form of music underwent enormous and profound change especially in popular music. It was intertwined with social revolution and the music spoke so vividly of the times, it responded to it's inequities and fermented social change with it's rebellious overtones. Rock and Roll  saw rhythm and blues music climb out of segregation and find a wider audience, embraced by white teenagers. Ray Charles took a gospel song and added secular lyrics to create I've Got A Woman one of the first great soul songs. In 1962 he recorded the brilliant Modern Sounds in Country and Western and gave a unique interpretation of country music imbuing it with soul and emotion that had not been heard in these songs before.

James Brown already established as a soul performer with fire created a sound that was stripped back to it's rhythmic core, a strong focus on a repeated syncopated percussive beat with muted horn breaks and an occasional scratchy rhythm guitar set the framework for modern funk. He shared a similar desire as Ray Charles to swim against the tide and be the master of his own art, to control it and be independent from the tightening embrace of the modern record label.

The Beatles instituted a pop music revolution with music that was built on everything from rock and roll to late 50's and early 60's vocal groups. What they added was something raw and spontaneous with effervescent harmonies, they weren't one dimensional, they wrote their own material and when they did covers they drew from an impressive range. The evolution as a band was spectacular, they soon became tired of treating an LP as a couple of hit singles and the rest filler, although you never got any any filler on a Beatles album. They wanted the entire album to stand on it's own and to develop their songwriting and musicianship, which they took to unforeseen levels. Other British bands followed, some merely copies other set themselves apart with a different approach. The Kinks had a reflective approach laced with wry humour, they were apt at both eulogising British society and attacking it's classed based social attitudes. The Rolling Stones took a more direct and dramatic direction, their sound based on Chicago R&B was funky and fast, it was upfront and aggressive, their songwriting misogynistic and cynical but with a capacity for dry wit.

That burst of sonic creativity seemed to dull towards the turn of the 70's music seemed complacent, record companies too controlling so much good music missed, destined for bargain bins. The question was raised was there any chance of a future music revolution, would there ever be a heady period where music would take off to new heights. I for one don't think so, music will continue to evolve new technology has aided this but music today has a more nostalgic bent. Musicians are looking to the past for the inspiration to move forward, I don't find anything wrong with this because the music being created is enlightening in it's depth and sound. Bands like The Punch Brothers are delivering a new interpretation of bluegrass, California natives Dawes are harking back to the Laurel Canyon sound alongside former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman under his guise Father John Misty.

In Melbourne which enjoys a vibrant music scene the soul and funk scene have bubbled away for years but it's only recently that the bands are attracting more attention. Groups like Saskwatch who follow a more northern soul sound and The Cactus Channel who are young purveyors of funk are two bands who display a faithful but fresh version of an established sound. The interesting things is and I read this in the Monthly is that Australia doesn't have a strong soul legacy, soul music in the 60's wasn't heavily promoted by local record companies and it's stars rarely if ever toured here during their heyday. James Brown who was accustomed to playing large venues at home played at the Hilton Hotel lounge when he first toured here in 1978 and by all reports tore the place to bits. Country, folk and the new form Americana have deeper roots here, country and especially folk were popular in Australia back in the 60's so they have a deeper connection, but our version is unique, with many bands adding darker elements to the basic sound, I'm thinking along the lines of Graveyard Train and Little John. Hopefully I'll be able to revisit this when I log post 200, thanks to everyone who has been reading.

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