The Soul Stirrers/Swan Silvertones
Gospel for the Rest of Us
The Soul Stirrers Featuring R.H. Harris: Shine on Me (Specialty '92)
In 1991 I wrote an atheistic gospel piece called "With God on Their Side" that I stand by. As death bears down, I may yet bend again toward the Lord, but I doubt it, and that's not why I returned to this 1992 CD I always admired and never penetrated. It's because I sensed in Rebert Harris a great voice that wasn't just for canary fanciers‑-a voice connoisseurs of normality could learn to love. I might never be a fan, I thought, but at least I could listen up close. Well, now I'm a fan, and not for the usual reasons. Harris is renowned for a falsetto he claimed incorrectly he'd invented and for an intensity that one way or another is gospel's currency. But what distinguishes both attractions is the restraint with which they're deployed. Yes he took flight, yes he got gritty and sweaty. Even at his most transported, however, he was always mellow--he always conveyed a core spiritual calm. And his time is uncanny, adding polyrhythm to quartet music that was always a cappella. Although a few of the lyrics have charms even for an unbeliever‑-"Everybody Ought to Love Their Soul," "Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb"‑-they could be in Akan for all the difference they make in the musical moment. Except, that is, for "Feel Like My Time Ain't Long," about parents dying, which doesn't mention the Lord once. A
Swan Silvertones: Love Lifted Me/My Rock (Specialty '91)
Especially after ace arranger Paul Owens signed on midway through their 1951-55 Specialty stint, the Swan Silvertones relied on a formula. But so did Motown. The problem with this one is the way it was slicked up melodramatically just afterward, during the group's Vee-Jay peak. The center is always Claude Jeter, direct forebear of Al Green and a more crucial gospel falsetto than Rebert Harris himself. But at Specialty Jeter is in a sense the straight man, and for us secular sinners that's good. What happens around him is the formula: the star holding steady as hard-shouting Solomon Womack and Robert Crenshaw wild out. Anchored by drums and piano, rough sound subsumes sweet song as the Swan Silvertones rock the house. A MINUS
Everyone's moved on to the new thread, but just some last things here, don't want to carry over. Milo, agreed on #9. bradluen, for sure on Dahlen, and yes, I'd thought of that [Concep best, Fern not] after I'd posted, except thinking more on it, Concepcion was the best for a few years, but not the era [depending how you define era, I suppose], and should Fernandez be downgraded because Ripken and Trammell came up right then? I see Concepcion and Fernandez as a wash, the former a bit better with the glove, the latter with the bat. Neither equals Barry Larkin, Semi Mike, as I'm sure you'd agree. Greg Teta: you've made some interesting points. The Gold Glove voters generally get it right, but I think they can be lazy - a player will often keep getting voted on his rep (eg, did Brooks really deserve the GG ever year from 70-75, with Nettles in the league?) . And sometimes they're downright wrong. A lot of Yankee fans will tell you that they noticed years ago that Jeter wasn't such a hot shortstop. Didn't bother them so much because of his bat, and because he's Jeter (deathless line in the Xgau Lenny Kravitz review). Observation can't be ignored, it would be silly to say otherwise, but neither can more sophisticated contextual statistical attempts to figure out how to rate defense , *especially* because the traditional individual stats are even more tainted than the offensive ones (which I'm guessing is part of what you're getting at). Clete Boyer himself wouldn't have high assists totals playing for an all right-handed flyball staff. I'm not saying I trust all these methods - I'm suspicious that Hornsby's defensive WAR is higher than Eddie Collins's, for instance - but good work is being done. Also Greg Teta: did you ever read Only Ones guitarist John Perry's 331/3 book on Electric Ladyland?
Most of the money for composing classical music comes from grants, scholarships and academic positions anyway, and the gatekeepers for this money expect you to be well educated. What does this do for classical music as a style? It codifies it like it's some kind of gymnastics competition. The well-known joke about "new music" as they call it is that "it's really much better than it sounds." Oy. I know there are some collectives of classical musicians and composers in major cities like NY that have performances that may not be associated with a school or traditional performance space, but as far as I know the participants are nonetheless conservatory graduates.
Film and TV scores are really the only avenue available that I can think of for the classical composer outside of a college or university (in America at least). Or private lessons, though usually for an instrument, not for composition. Nico Muhly is one exception, however: he worked as an assistant to Philip Glass for a while (he may still), and he writes arrangements for indie bands, as well as composing for major orchestras and opera houses, and recording them for Decca. But he's an enormous exception. I hope that helps!
ADDENDUM: If memory serves correctly, both Berlioz and Debussy were self-taught. Schoenberg was also self-taught, though he didn't reject the establishment like Debussy (though his music may sound like a rejection, he believed he was extending the tradition). I might be wrong, or it may be more complicated than that, but those are at least three. I'm sure I can think of a dozen more if given the time and a little research.
I've read bitter gripes that jazz personalities and innovations have suffered because most players get the fundamentals and hone the chops in tidy, clean classrooms rather than chaotic, filthy bandstands. Other folks say Thank Yod to the same changes. There's no question that the Field Academy of the Blues is gone for good (but who would want to restore the sociological/political conditions that made it flourish?). Also without doubt, the Golden Age of Gospel led to the Golden Age of soul singers a generation later. No more. But hey, life goes on and things change.
Ryan- I agree on the Schubert and Ives on occasion. I'm a rock loving rockist , so those get neglected more than , well, Concepcion gets neglected by the HOF committee. I guess the Veteran's Committe awaits him as well as Trammell.
Where's my head at? I was a little giddy at first in thinking the vibraslap was akin to a steely dan. Cam, thanks for that list too. I think one of my favorite VIBRASLAP songs has got to be "Time for a Witness" by the Feelies, which isn't listed there, but I'll submit it for **** and giggles.
A lot of medieval theologians and Renaissance humanists were very slow to accord the visual arts anything approaching an equal status to music--painters and sculptors after all made things with their hands, were mere craftsmen rather than men of intellect, etc. These matters got debated a lot in the first years of the printing press, and the strongest defenses came from the artists themselves. Although there are a lot of contradictory statements in Leonardo's notebooks, he saw music's Achilles heel as being much like poetry's: in performance. That is, the performer might not be worthy of the text, the thing dies as soon as it is voiced, and (and this many would concede isn't really a problem) it was temporally linear rather than allowing some sort of self-guided analysis. (Partly he was here responding to a pre-print universe, where very few people would have their hands on readily consultable manuscripts in which they could parse poetry or philosophy at their leisure.) He was trying to score a point against music for painting--the performance is fixed before it is unveiled to the public--that isn't applicable to the era of recorded music. But the idea of music having a profound intellectual basis that is aligned with poetry and philosophy but not things that we otherwise do with our hands is very old, and has been pondered for centuries.
Gdash and Gmort -- #4 certainly jumps out as a stinker. Sometimes it's true and sometimes it's not. Don't think it says anything more about "universal" music characteristics than "new styles of music will occasionally find very large audiences." And it foolishly ignores simple technology changes.
What was the crying social need that made tango singer Carlos Gardel and opera heavyweight Enrico Caruso international stars? Probably the phonograph record.
Were Glenn Miller and Ella and big bands in general escapism? I've never been convinced. And what about all the searing country blues and C&W from the same time period? Just because their audiences were invisible in the mainstream narrative doesn't mean their needs weren't being met by very different music.
Then there's the funny counterpoints. So Dylan arose in response to a social need but Elvis did not? What was the widespread yearning for the invention of 12-tone music? Sure, Schoenberg claimed ordinary people would be whistling 12-tone tunes by the Mad Men era, but we know how that worked out.
As to #7, I think it's overstated and made to sound more rigid than need be, but it's basically true -- goths and rave-goers as much as mods and rockers as well as beboppers and swing mavens used music to locate identities. Indeed, the music was considered by the ingroup to be losing its poop when it wasn't doing such a good job of alienating outsiders.
No, for me it's #9 that has silly strings pulling it, particularly the (outdated) following: "On the whole, we believe that in order to become a professional musician it requires years of education and at least a decent disposable income to afford the lessons to do so. Thus we regard them highly in our society."
Nobody with two brain cells to rub together and who wasn't hatched yesterday knows that professional musicians do damn well with minimal formal education. Even more, the image you want to project is the untutored genius that sprang out of gutter to the heavens overnight. Next they'll be claiming knowing how to wear your powdered wig just so is a must for glossy magazine coverage.
Of course, it's true that many cultures consider popular musicians low-lifes, but the way performers carry on, who can blame them?
I'll go with observation by the pros any day over sabre-metrics. Still waiting for Billy Beane
to win a title.And nothing proves my point more than the stats that rated Derek Jeter very poorly and
the professional observers who gave him the Gold Glove in those years.
BTW- four interesting music related reviews in Sunday NY Times book review.
1) new 33 1/3- "Fear of Music"-about said album and the Talking Heads(by Jonathan Lethem)
2)a Dylan book
3) a Springsteen book
4)Rick Moody's "On Celestial Music"
PS Couple of baseball books too.
When you dig further into the syllabus, the paragraph on the "Anglo-American Diaspora" ends with the coincidental-to-our-recent-discussion sentence, "We will conclude by seeing how the Anglo-American ballad tradition has been affected by our changing world by looking at the folk music revival and the musical contributions of folksinger Pete Seeger."
And finally, cruising the academic world to the depth of two mouse clicks on Giggle, I find this abstract regarding the "Mozart makes geniuses" idea mentioned by several -- "The “Mozart effect” refers to claims that people perform better on tests of spatial abilities after listening to music composed by Mozart. We examined whether the Mozart effect is a consequence of between-condition differences in arousal and mood. Participants completed a test of spatial abilities after listening to music or sitting in silence. The music was a Mozart sonata (a pleasant and energetic piece) for some participants and an Albinoni adagio (a slow, sad piece) for others. We also measured enjoyment, arousal, and mood. Performance on the spatial task was better following the music than the silence condition, but only for participants who heard Mozart. The two music selections also induced differential responding on the enjoyment, arousal, and mood measures. Moreover, when such differences were held constant by statistical means, the Mozart effect disappeared. These findings provide compelling evidence that the Mozart effect is an artifact of arousal and mood."
The full citation at http://goo.gl/Wi7HX
p.s.: Ryan -- Loved your biographical note.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
live local music on
Enter your ZIP code to see concerts happening in your area.
Data provided by Zvents