“The blues has lasted because the blues is about reality. Life is blue. Life ends. Sorrow is certain. Pain can’t be avoided. The blues lays it out. But as you sing the blues, and as you listen to the blues, something happens to you. In the middle of songs that have some of the saddest stories ever told, you feel more alive than ever. That’s the strength of the blues. That’s the miracle – watching the blues chase the blues away.” – Little Jimmy Scott
I’ve found myself in a place, musically speaking, that I would have never imagined. Not 4 years ago, not 10 years ago. But that seems to be the way life goes. You get busy making plans, and you miss life happening all around you while you are making those plans. At least that is how I feel. No matter what you think is going to happen, life probably has a different plan. So, come what may…
In high school and a couple years into college I was very much about only the music I liked and wasn’t really open to other styles. I had my Metallica, Tool, and my Dream Theater (and many other bands of the heavier persuasion) and I didn’t need anything else. (I’d chalk it up to teenage angst…but I was not angsty at all, I had no reason to be.) I didn’t like anything else really…except for Bob Dylan, but more in a passing sense. I didn’t even own a steel-string acoustic guitar until about 4 years ago, and even then, I rarely played it.
Which brings me to today…and my current affliction: I’ve become obssessed with folk music, americana, blues…whatever you want to call it. I find myself finger-picking away at very traditional sounding chord progressions late into the night time and time again. I find myself sitting for hours on end playing slide guitar, essentially re-learning everything because the tunings change the layout of the fingerboard and the technique requires completely different mechanics. And I enjoy it much more than I ever thought possible. A cool spring evening, a guitar in open-D tuning, slide in hand, and all is right with the world for that moment (or in my own selfish little world at least).
So, here are two pieces inspired by that folk obsession. By artists like Kelly Joe Phelps, Bill Frisell, Bob Dylan, etc. etc.
Slide guitar is the sound closest to that of a human voice, capable of so many inflections, emotions, and prone to imperfections of sound. It sounds like a weeping soul to me. Sorrowful and melancholy, but somehow still uplifting. Somehow still hopeful. And I think that is a pretty good reflection of how life can be sometimes.
You lose the blues by playing the blues.
This is an instrument from Kenya, I believe it is called a Cora. A good friend of mine gave it to me as a gift a couple years ago. I’ve been wanting to try to do something with it ever since, and here is my first attempt. It has 5 strings, and is set up sort of like a harp, so that each string can only play one note. I’m not sure how the strings are supposed to be tuned, so I just tuned it to sound interesting to me.
Since I only had 5 notes to work with, I tried to vary things by playing different rhythmic motifs. I think the rhythms clash/come together in very interesting ways, and create some beautiful textures. There are 6 different parts. Each one improvised. Kind of stealing the idea from one of my previous tracks, Lightwire Shadows. Except here I am much more limited than I would be on guitar.
I think the key here is to listen and wait to hear how the different pieces come together, clash, and evolve throughout the piece.