Down here at the end of a stone wall, where the creek runs cold and the grass grows wild, music sounds different. It howls and rushes and laughs and cries. There are sweetheart waltzes and breakdowns, songs of love and despair. Down here music isn’t the point; it’s the air.
I prefer it when musicians don’t refer to their music as art. I won’t even make an exception for the classically trained. It’s not that it isn’t or can’t be, or that others shouldn’t call it that, it’s the intent of saying it yourself that creates the offense. If music makes a larger point, if it echoes a truth about our lives, if it hones in on a small detail hidden away in the heart then perhaps it’s not much different than a Rothko painting or some such thing, but the self assertion kicks over the stonewall and cuts down the grass.
The latest newgrass album to hit the station came across my desk today, and like so many have done before, it left me cold. The picking is exceptional and clean and fast with wicked chords and sudden turns. I believe the term flights of fancy would apply to the numerous instrumentals, but they are too light to pick up my heavy bones.
The newgrassers won’t be phased by stodgy criticism, as Jazz musicians don’t argue with those that don’t get it. I fully admit I don’t get it. Where has it come from, where is it going? Where’s the truths? Where’s the jokes? Everything runs shallow. The tunes are named for girls, but is it flattering to have a six and a half minute instrumental noodle named after you? I’m reminded of the Lyle Lovett lyric, “you’ve got to impress her, if you want to undress her,” but these jams seem to me to be more about impressing oneself. No one needs to see that.
Return to intent. This is where the problem is. Flatt & Scruggs, and Bill Monroe, and Jimmy Martin wanted to be liked. I will give that bluegrass by its very nature has a limited appeal, but that didn’t stop these boys from trying. The younger velvet rope club though starts from a different place. They’re not coming to you and it’s tough to go to them.
The above mentioned album goes unnamed simply because I have no way into it. Don’t read this so much as critique of one particular album so much as the confusion caused by all of them. It will have it’s lovers and haters, these records always do, but what I’m looking for is the guts and the heart. Sometimes, I suspect the word art can be a sly cover up of sorts. A mustache and glasses disguise. They look like musicians, and more or less act like musicians, and play their instruments like really talented musicians, but where’s the life? The pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers seemed like real people too. At first. Upon closer inspection though , well, they were damn pod people!