Summer Songs

Some songs are inextricably linked to a particular summer. Invariably, every year, new songs are released singing summer’s praises. And when they get it really right, the song can not only be about the season in literal terms, but can give you that feeling of summer…. the feeling of long lazy days that turn into endless nights, the joy in simple pleasures, whether it be a day at the beach or a BBQ with friends… the simplicity and the warmth. In honor of entering summer’s home stretch, here are some of my favorite ‘Summer Songs’.

1. Surfer Girl- The Beach Boys

2. In The Summertime – Mungo Jerry

3. Hot Fun In The Summertime – Sly & The Family Stone

4. Summer Wind – Frank Sinatra

5. The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing

What Summer Song would you add?

California….

 

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        If that weren’t enough…..

Antelope Valley Hillside_ California

Or this…..

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You may or may not know that we have moved Oliver James’ headquarters to the West Coast. A big change, mileage-wise, but it’s not an entirely new locale. I lived here for over 30 years and while my time on the East Coast was well spent, I always had a hankering for the easy-going vibe and reliably temperate climate of the west. I didn’t name the album “Chasing the Sun” for nothing!

 

But beyond a fairly uncomplicated desire to go back to California, I have been thinking about what inspires people to make big changes like this in their lives. Some are obvious- new jobs, new love, new families. But some seem capricious, with no external motivator. I can relate, as I seem to have an internal wiring that requires me to start a new chapter about every decade, whether it be changing jobs, getting married, or starting a band, or relocating.

 

Some people find comfort in routine and regularity. It totally makes sense and I can see the value in being able to trust your stability. Most musicians do not, by necessity, fall into that category! For some of us, the thrill of embarking on new adventures, new projects, new challenges, delving into the unknown, is what keeps us going. It keeps life interesting.  In the words of Gail Sheehy, “If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”

 

Do you crave change or take comfort in familiarity?

The Art of the MixTape

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The mixtape- is there any better medium to show the world who you are and what you want to say?

 

Before you could carry your entire musical library with you (the dark ages, I know), catering to your musical needs had to be anticipated, thoughtfully prepared, and lovingly created. For road trips, daily commutes, and parties you had to mull over your collection, curating the mix that would provide the perfect mood, transitions and all, for the late night drive, the morning workout, or the Sunday BBQ.  More challenging still was getting the timing just right. Who among us old-schoolers didn’t have a few select go-to songs under 2 minutes so that we wouldn’t waste a single minute of listenable tape?

 

And of course, the mixtape served another very important purpose – courtship. I used to make them for my girlfriends to show how smooth and knowledgeable about cool indie music I was. Mixtapes were the perfect way to convey to someone how you feel without stumbling through finding the words to say it. After all, as the saying goes, “Where words fail, music speaks.”

 

I wonder how the changes in the way we consume music has changed this age old art. It certainly is convenient to make playlists and carry them with you at all times, ever-prepared for that drive or that get-together, but do people still make mixes for one another? Do they make mix CDs to give (increasingly becoming obsolete as well)? Do they email zip files of playlists?

 

Perhaps this is the perfect union of old and new? What do you think?

A Mixtape/USB drive

A Mixtape/USB drive

My First House Concert

I recently played my first house concert in Brooklyn. If you are not familiar with house concerts, they are, essentially, a live show held in someone’s home. The host is therefore someone enthusiastic enough about music to invite their friends and neighbors over to enjoy a concert in the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere of their house, apartment, barn, backyard, etc. This makes for a very intimate setting with a very attentive audience. Add some drinks, maybe some small plates of food, and everybody wins. No bad seats. Nobody trying to talk over the performers. No bartenders with bad attitudes. In short, it was a very cool gig with a very appreciative audience.

Hearing live music is an experience, and every kind of venue brings its own perks and challenges. Seeing a huge act in a stadium is undeniably fun, but you never really expect a great view, or even great sound, and forget about affordable drinks! Seeing an act at a dive bar, or a supper club, or a coffeehouse are all their own unique experiences. None inherently better than the others, but certainly better suited for certain moods, artists, and situations.

In this day and age where we feel over-scheduled and disconnected so much of the time, when the thought of battling traffic to go out after a long day feels draining, and many people have seen their expendable income shrink, house concerts are a great alternative to the traditional ways of seeing live music. Speaking from my own experience as the artist, it was an incredibly refreshing and fun gig.

When you think about it, house concerts are the original way of seeing live music

When you think about it, house concerts are the original way of seeing live music

The Art of the Cover Song

Bowie infuses his own style into everything he does

Bowie infuses his own style into everything he does

I would venture to say that almost all artists start out playing other people’s songs. After all, the feelings we get when listening to our favorite artists is what inspired most of us to pick up our instruments in the first place. Even when that passion develops into writing our own songs, the fun of covering songs never leaves us.

But what makes a great cover song? It never quite makes sense to me when bands do a faithful cover, releasing a song that sounds just like the original. It is great when bands take a song and make it their own, oftentimes becoming more famous than the original. Whitney Houston doing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” for instance, or Manfred Mann singing Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Light”. Sometimes artists own it so well that the cover becomes the definitive version and people don’t even realize it is a cover song. Think Kris Kristofferson’s “Me & Bobby McGee” as done by Janis Joplin or “Black Magic Woman” as done by Santana- many people have no idea this is a Fleetwood Mac song! What I really love is when a huge star does a cover of something less known, and makes it their own while nodding to the original.  Bowie’s version of “Cactus” originally by The Pixies comes to mind.

The key seems to be making substantial changes, whether it be the tempo, style of genre, instrumentation, or any combination of tweaking musical elements that shed a new light on the song, allowing the listener to hear it from a fresh perspective. Then the artist must infuse it with their own talents to convince you that they belong within the song and the song belongs to them. A great song is a great song, whatever shape it takes, and an artist that can not only do a great song justice, but can take it to a new place, is a talent all its own.

Whitney doing Dolly

Whitney doing Dolly

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