Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Blues Gold

Various Artists - Blues Gold

I can't say this with 100% certainty, but when I was in grade school I think took some form of music appreciation. I remember there being a teacher, naturally, and singing. There was a piano and a few others instruments. But I don't recall what songs, or why we were even there to begin with. What was the meaning of it all? At that age you don't fully understand the significance of music. You know you like it. You know other's like it. But you don't realize its true power, how it has defined cultures, started movements and changed lives. I must have been nine or ten, give me a break. I think my favorite song when I was that age was Modern English's "Melt With You." What a hopeless romantic.

What I'm getting at is that music programs absolutely should be part of a student's curriculum, and at an early age too, not just in college. The arts seems to be non-existent in school these days. At least they were when I was younger.

I'm not talking about showing a copy of The Sound of Music. Or watching Barney. I know stuff like that has its benefit and I'm certainly not against them. I know songs like Do Re Mi are fun and innocent. But let's go beyond that. Let's teach our kids to be passionate, unafraid to be unique. How do we expect to inspire our kids? (Inspiration isn't found solely through music, mind you, but this is a music blog after all). Whenever Lamb Chop was on when I was a kid, I was always a bit freaked out by the woman's overexcitement when she was singing. The music I found most enjoyable was what was in the background of my favorite afternoon cartoons: Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, etc, which played a lot of jazz and classical. Beautiful stuff.

We should open people up, not just kids, to what's out there. I know I'm beginning to beat a dead horse here, but it's like we're being too manipulated and influenced by savy advertisers. Tabacco companies, anyone? I mean, ever heard of Kidz Bop? Kids go nuts over songs that corporations carelessly churn out, and thanks to radio stations like KIIS FM, there is no end in sight. Ever find a Muddy Waters song on any kids compilation? Get real! Big Mama Thornton? Now you've lost me.

Funny thing, during school dances the music was always my least favorite part. Not the feeling of embarrassment I felt as I flung my arms and legs around the dance floor. But the not-this-song-again feeling in my chest.

Blues, I think, out of all the genres I've covered, is my favorite. My favorite changes everyday, but whenever I go back to blues, it always puts me in such a good place. The close-your-eyes-and-feel-all-the-pain-and-suffering-disappear place. Not that I go through very much pain and suffering. But blues songs have always found me at my most vulnerable. Like when I'm driving home at night, feeling lonely, and on comes "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Etta James. Everything is suddenly perfect. The moon is suddenly larger and brighter and all the lights are green. Or when you're in Seattle and a street performer is playing "My Babe" by Little Walter down at Pike Place.

Do check out the Etta James song I mentioned. You'll know what I'm talking about. And if you don't get it, then I don't know what to say.

I know Pop Music will never fade out, and I'm ok with that. I just hope one day people will realize what they've been missing before stuff like blues gold is forgotten. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, the generations that grew up with most of the music I've covered is getting older, let's keep their memories alive.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In the Jungle Groove

James Brown - In the Jungle Groove

Like most people, my knowledge of James Brown didn't go much further than his biggest hits: Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, I Got You (I Feel Good) or It's a Man's Man's Man's World; K-Earth 101 material. Those don't even scratch the surface. James Brown didn't earn "The King of Soul" reference because of three radio hits. If you really explore his entire career - if you haven't, you should - those songs are weak in comparison (really, they're wonderful songs). In particular, listen to his late 50s stuff.

Jungle Groove is the definition of funk. In fact, there is no definition of funk in the dictionary; I checked. This album plays when you look it up, like one of those cheesy Hallmark cards that play music. Only this is ten full, incredible, danceable songs from an artist who unabashedly did his thing, his way.

Really, I chose Jungle Groove to highlight one track in particular, "Funky Drummer." Consider the happiest moment in your life: graduation, birth of a child, marriage; that's what hearing Funky Drummer is like. It's smooth, cool and just the right amount of funk to tap your foot to. The real winners here are the musicians, though; James Brown merely directs traffic while occasionally grunting out a line or two.

As James Brown compilations go, you couldn't do better than Jungle Groove.