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Not Much to Say, But I’m Listening

I don’t know why but as far as writing goes I’ve been running on empty lately. Maybe it’s just the natural way life rolls. Anyway, as a result I’ve been listening to some new music and I’ve found some tunes I really like, so I thought I’d share.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real performing their cover of Eric Clapton’s “After Midnight” on the “Jam in the Van” YouTube series, at the High Sierra Festival.

Lukas Nelson High Sierra

Janelle Monae, “Give Them What They Love”, off her Electric Lady CD.


Pearl Jam’s song “Sirens”, off their new album, Lightning Bolt.

Pearl Jam Sirens

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

Recently, after seeing Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real play here in Portland I picked up their newly released CD, “Live Endings”. I first heard this band last April when I ran across their Yahoo concert streaming live over the internet, and let me tell you, the bold promise they make in their name is not one they take lightly. Their music delivers real thought and real emotion. It’s played the way music should be played. Not the over-analyzed, over-commercialized, and over-marketed crap we hear all over corporate radio today that stifles the creative moment in a death grip. When you hear these guys play live you are listening to what they are feeling at that very moment–their heart and soul is what you’re hearing–and you become part of the music with them.

Nelson, on lead guitar and vocals, is the son of music legend Willie Nelson and a lifetime spent at the knees of some of greatest musical artists of the nineteenth century is obvious. This guy was taught the blues by B.B. King, for God’s sake! He’s an amalgam of the best rock, blues, folk, and, of course, country/western that has ever been played in history. Combine that with influences he’s picked up in music he’s gravitated to on his own–Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, (Pink) Floyd, etc.–and you’ve got a guy that can take on any kind of music that falls under the label “Americana” and deftly incorporate those styles into his own sound.

The other members of POTR hold their own along with Nelson. Corey McCormick on bass provides a depth to the music, Tato Melgar brings a sense of the exotic on percussion with his Latin beats, and Anthony LoGerfo on drums holds them all together. And as for the sound of Nelson’s voice, it’s undeniably reminiscent of his father’s, although without the deep, mellowing that comes with the decades. It’s raw, just as it should be with this type of music.

I’m really into POTR and wanted to share my excitement in seeing real, honest-to-God musicians playing great rock ‘n roll again. I  hope, hope, HOPE this band takes off. It’s been an awful long time since we’ve had actual talent trump marketing packages, and I don’t know about you but I am really ready to feel music again. My excitement over the possibilities of this band grows every time I hear them.

So, without further adieu—Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real!!!

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real; “Hoochie, Coochie Man”

Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man”, electrified.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, “Four Letter Word”

POTR’s original Southern rock song: “Four Letter Word”.

Willie and Lukas Nelson, “It’s Floodin’ Down in Texas”

Deep blues performed with Willie Nelson: “It’s Floodin’ Down in Texas”

Lukas’s country roots come through on “Can You Hear Me Love You”.

Here’s a link to a previous post where I wrote about Willie and Lukas’s cover of the Pearl Jam song, “Just Breathe” and a link to the song on YouTube.

My Favs: Keith Richards

“Pressure Drop” with Keith Richards and Toots & The Maytals

Rasta Beats


Press play then return to read on…


A voice; far off and tight…

“A rasta man…”

Others join in.

A bell.

Shaky voice; full of years…

People singing together,

Individually distinct.


They sing pain…

I feel it.

They sing family…

I feel it.

They sing home…



I feel it.

“They (Wingless Angels) play deliberately at just slightly under heart rate. The drumming goes deeper than your bones. It’s marrow music.”

– Keith Richards; producer for Mindless Records.

The music you’re listening to is called Niyabinghi (also binghi). It’s a style of chant that sprang from the Rastafarian resistance celebrations and went on to inspire popular ska, rocksteady, and reggae music. Comprised of three kinds of drums called “harps”; a single akete or “repeater”, a middle-pitched funde, and a bass striking loudly on the first beat and softly on the third of four counts, they create a smooth, comforting rhythm that is nearly hypnotic. The funde and bass keep regular rhythms, while the akete player improvises a conversation with his beats. Words, spoken or sung, during the chant are taken directly from Bible verses or well-known Christian hymns.

The African influence is easily heard in Niyabinghi but the style is considered to be a new sound that combines Jamaican traditions with a rediscovery of African drumming, rather than a direct continuation on traditional African rhythms. It is the religious music of Rasta followers and has been used by reggae’s legendary musician, Bob Marley.

I was introduced to Niyabinghi music through Keith Richards. Not in person–although that would be in the top five dream moments of my life–but rather through his promotion of a group called The Wingless Angels (that’s who you’re listening to now). He met them while living in Jamaica during the early 1970s and found the rhythms of the drumming to be a calming influence as he recuperated from a tour with the Rolling Stones.  For me, this meditative music helps me to reach the place where I can connect with the words that need to come out in a story. It slows me down and allows me to enter a world where I am free with the music of the Rastaman.

The Wingless Angels website:

Outlaw Generations

Click play, then come back to read more:


Recently, while on a search for new music I ran across Lukas Nelson. As soon as I heard his voice I was hooked. It’s raw. It’s real. It will probably sound very familiar to you, there’s a tightness in it that is instantly recognizable. In fact, it’s a sound you’ve probably heard all your life because he inherited it from his father, Willie Nelson.

In their cover of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” you can hear the passing of the musical torch in the blending of their voices. The deeper, full voice of the father’s reflecting years of experience, juxtapositioned against the youthful energy of the son’s. It’s also heard in the tones of their guitars. Willie’s legendary “Trigger”, a 1969 Martin N-20, has a richness that is equal to Willie’s own voice, while Lukas’s electric guitar reflects the intensity of a young man setting out on his own. You can hear three generations of music in this one song; straightforward country, the artistry of the 60s & 70s, and the thoughtful melancholy of 1990s Grunge, thanks to Eddie Vedder’s beautiful lyrics which cut straight to the heart of the human experience and the passing of time. What must his words (below) mean to the father and son singing them.

This song is included on Willie’s latest album, “Heroes”.

“Just Breathe”

Yes, I understand that every life must end, uh-huh
As we sit alone, I know someday we must go, uh-huh
Oh I’m a lucky man, to count on both hands the ones I love
Some folks just have one, yeah, others, they’ve got none
Stay with me…
Let’s just breathe…
Practiced all my sins, never gonna let me win, uh-huh
Under everything, just another human being, uh-huh
I don’t wanna hurt, there’s so much in this world to make me bleed
Stay with me
You’re all I see…
Did I say that I need you?
Did I say that I want you?
Oh, if I didn’t I’m a fool you see
No one knows this more than me
As I come clean…
I wonder everyday, as I look upon your face, uh-huh
Everything you gave
And nothing you would save, oh no
Nothing you would take
Everything you gave…
Did I say that I need you?
Oh, did I say that I want you?
Oh, if I didn’t I’m a fool you see
No one knows this more than me
And I come clean, ah…
Nothing you would take
Everything you gave
Hold me til I die
Meet you on the other side…

Kumbaya, I’m Stealing Your Song

The weather is changing. The days are lengthening. My thoughts are returning to the outdoors after a long hibernation away from Portland, Oregon’s rainy days of winter.

Let’s go camping!

We’ve got our tent, our sleeping bags, hotdogs, s’mores, and everything else we’ll need. The camp is set up around the fire pit and now, as the sun sets, what comes to mind but that old campfire classic; “Kumbaya”.

As it turns out, its controversal history is tied to Portland.

Reverend Marvin V. Frey, (1918-1992) claimed to have composed the song, originally entitled “Come By Here”, in 1936 after hearing a prayer delivered by a storefront evangelist named “Mother Duffin” in Portland. This contradicted research showing that sometime between 1922 and 1931 the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals added the song, under the name “Come By Heah”, to its catalog. It was sung in Gullah, a creole pidgin dialect that was spoken by the former slaves of the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. The first four recordings of the song were made on wax cylinder by the founder of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center, Robert Winslow Gordon, between 1926 and 1928.

In 1939 Rev. Frey included the song in his collection of lyric sheets, Revival Choruses of Marvin V. Frey (printed in Portland, OR) and later claimed the change in the title to “Kum Ba Ya” came through a missionary family returning from Africa in 1946 but “no scholar has ever found an indigenous word ‘kumbaya’ with a relevant meaning” to the song, according to the liner notes to a 1959 album by a singer named Pete Seeger.

So, when you’re strumming your guitar around the campfire this summer don’t picture the happy hippies of the 1960’s who popularized it as a peace-loving anthem. Instead, picture the good Rev. Frey capitalizing on a slave’s song of hope.

Pete Seeger’s version of Kumbaya:

Mom’s Music

I’m listening to classical music right now.

I listen to all kinds of music while I’m writing, often picking particular styles that set the mood for whatever I’m working on at the time. I don’t know why I picked classical today but it just so happens the first piece to come up features a pianist.

As I’m trying to concentrate there is a thing deep inside me that makes itself known. Not a voice, although it certainly speaks to me. Not even a feeling, really. Just a knowing…

It’s my mother.

My mom passed away almost ten years ago and for those who knew her personally I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the sound of a piano instantly brings her back to life in my mind. Music was a big part of her life. As was I. If only two things could be said about my mom they would be, above all else, she loved her kids and she loved music.

Thank you, Mom.

Now that I’m writing I can understand why she felt so connected to her music. Just like putting pen to paper is for me, playing music transferred her to a different world…heart and soul. When she heard the notes rolling gently along, building then receding, they spoke to her in a language only she could understand. It is the most intimate thing in the world. It was her poetry.

The image of her at the piano keeps popping up in my head. Her back is to me, her hands fanned out across the keys. They move with the grace of someone who is part of the music…not the clumsy, clunking poking at them like I do. She felt each and every note she played.

In a way, I see her music in my writing. The ebb and flow of the story, the pace and tone…it’s there. The way a sentence reads, letting it lead to the next thing. The images. For me, I must feel what my characters are feeling. I have to experience their emotions myself in order to express them in my writing. Sometimes that’s a bit scary…like right now.

I see her finishing now…just as I’m about to. She lifts her fingers from the keys gently, letting the music fade off into nothingness…

Just as she does…

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