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Where to begin? Well, at the beginning obviously...
There are many cultural works, musical and literary, that influence how we express our own experience of the world. If this expression is encapsulated in a new work, then it's worth taking a moment to think about where that came from. How did we get here? For the unaccompanied, it is all about the song, the performance. The first lightning-strike-moment comes from Sam Brown's "Stop". The shear emotional power of her performance still roots you to the spot and gets the heart beating at a clinically dangerous rate. Sam's voice is one thing, but the shear openness of the lyric, the vulnerability coupled with a sort of defiant strength... the realisation that showing your emotions is not a weakness, in fact it makes the progenitor FASCINATING.
When absorption in your own emotional turmoil suddenly spills over into a comic self-consciousness, the early period of the Police is pitch perfect. Out of your depth and falling over yourself in 'Does Everyone Stare', your entrapping, boring life, slowly falling in on you (to your relief) 'On Any Other Day', and the numbing desolation of having messed it all up in 'Bed's Too Big' makes poetry and wry comedy out of despair. The pathetic becomes bathetic with a double edged: exquisite self-realisation that does nothing to salve the pain.
Maybe you can take the comic dimension too far but 10cc are shear joy and anticipation as they keep you guessing where the song is going to go next. Coded social-political comments aside, the breathtaking chop and change between styles, genre, and meter within the same song and sometimes the same verse, teaches all there is to know about arrangement: moving from 'Oh Effendi' and 'Dreadlock Holiday', to 'The Sacro-iliac', and 'Baron Samedi'.
Variety is all very well but at some point the place where you grew up gets in on the act and, although the Beatles is an obvious reference point, it is the sea-port-tinged strains of the Las' 'Doldrums', 'unchained melody', and 'There She Goes' that come flooding in. They are almost chanties, with percussion more than drums driving the sound. Lee Mavers is awe-inspiring in his melodies and the way he tells a story, all with that melancholic far away glance into the distance...
Aimee Mann was a revelation! Ice-cool barbs, knowing and sarcastic but she has the emotional map to get you out of wherever you end up: 'who knows where this boat will go, pulled down by the undertow, it's lucky I know how to row'. The wisdom just keeps coming: 'No Choice In The Matter', 'Amateur', 'You're with Stupid', 'That's just what you are', 'I should have known it', 'Could have been anyone', 'Fifty Years After The Fair', 'Say Anything'... It's dificult to narrow down the essence to a specific song! The melodies, the chords, the arrangements; you could get lost in the world she weaves and quite happily spend the rest of your days playing and singing along. This is how to CONNECT.
If you spend time playing tours in a 60's garage-surf band (The Wig Outs) you start to develop a taste for the straight forward and unpretentious. Dan Sartain at the garage in Highbury has got to be one of those gigs you remember forever. He's not particularly well know, but having played his album to bits you need to cancel anything that contends with time in a room with this guy and his guitar, if you get the chance. 'Walk Among The Cobras' brings a slightly psychotic head-long rush of lust-full obsession, shamefully discovered. This is a torrent of overwhelming feelings, suddenly crashing through from the overflowing bath in the upstairs apartment, bringing a sudden deluge of water and broken floor-boards down into your life. It's much too late to get out of here: 'Indian Ink', 'Replacement Man', 'Young Girls', 'Gun vs Knife', and 'Drama Queens'. Then, when you think you know what he's all about, you get the surreal 'Flight Of The Finch', the cool-kid 'Bohemian Grove', and then the SO POIGNANT 'The World Is Going To Break Your Little Heart'. Watching Dan singing with his acoustic guitar is, well, electrifying.
From here it is a small step to Jack White where unfussy attitude delivers an incredibly fine balance of complex emotions and ideas about how to stay true and stand up for what you think is right: 'I'm going to school today but I'm dropping myself off'. 'Apple Blossom', 'You're pretty good looking (for a girl)', 'I'm Shaking', 'Weep Themselves', and 'Hypocritical Kiss' give you the bar-room piano, the snatched parlour guitar sing-along and, of course, that stuttering almost out-of-control guitar solo. It's REALLY old-school, channelling spirits across the ether and then broadcasting them through a wrecked radio with a torn speaker. But then there is 60's RnB ('Trash Tongue Talker') and 70's psychedelia but.. er.. not... ('And On And On'). Is this Detroit distilled into a potent bootleg moonshine by Jack? This music is transforming and transporting.
So, where next? Nada Surf, Fountains of Wayne, Brendon Benson, who have shown that the acoustic guitar and voice combo is inexhaustible. It can carry you anywhere if you have the right talent at the controls. Think 'I-95', 'Traffic And Weather', 'Seatbacks and Tray Tables Up', 'The Way You Wear Your Head', 'Inside Of Love', 'No Quick Fix', 'Blizzard of '77', 'A whole Lot Better', 'Folk Singer', 'Life In The D', 'Good To Me', 'Pleasure Seeker'... if you're curious. We've got a lot to do so let's get on with it!