Sunday, April 20, 2014

Medeski, Martin and Wood + Nels Cline: Woodstock Sessions Vol. 2

Medeski, Martin and Wood is a band I have the utmost respect for.  For 20+ years now I've been listening to pretty much everything they have released, as they put it out, and universally digging it.  I trust these guys to know better than I do when it comes to determining what music needs to be made.  So, when my copy of Woodstock Sessions Vol. 2 featuring guitarist Nels Cline arrived in the mail earlier this week I put it on that evening.  At the time it didn't jive with what I was in need of and I cut it off about 20 minutes in.  Noise.

But last night I gave Woodstock Sessions another shot, while returning home on a late Saturday evening hour-long drive along country roads, when there was no rush to be anywhere and all one has to be concerned with is stray deer - which there were plenty of.  The album worked much better as the soundtrack to such an endeavor.  What was once noise now became sublime.  
Woodstock Sessions Vol. 2 (where's Vol. 1?) was recorded live on August 27, 2013 at Applehead Studios in Woodstock, NY in front of an intimate audience, but it is edited in such a way so that you don't really hear it as a "live album".  Medeski, Martin and Wood are joined by consumate guitarist Nels Cline of Wilco fame, and this addition inspires sort of a bizzarro version of Medeski, Martin, Scofield and Wood.

I've only listened to the album that one time not 12 hours ago, but I interpreted it as four engaged soloists with a deep-seated understanding of music allowing their collective abilities to arrive in any territories "the now" deemed pertinent.  Medeski, Martin and Wood have a reputation of being groovemeisters, but anyone who has seen them live knows that - while true - they also spend almost as much time channeling shamanic visions that have more to do with anthropology than chord changes.  

The addition of Cline takes that a step farther.  The groove is definitely still there, but it's subliminally hiding out under a blanket of sound with little intention of showing its face.  Rather than play to the whims of an audience and go in a direction that might dictate, MMW + Cline shake off those surface level inclinations continually in search of deeper layers.  As a result, your're not really listening to John, Billy, Chris and Nels as individuals, but rather as a greater-good celestial music mind. 

That's what it sounded like to me at least.  You be your own judge.  And remember to eat lots of fish; it'll help you with your scales.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Goldmine of Tune Transcriptions – Tater Joe’s Old-Time Musical Mercantile

Last week I happened upon a site I had never noticed before:  Tater Joe’s Old-Time Musical Mercantile, described as A Collection of Transcriptions and Recordings From Workshops, Lessons, and Personal Efforts.
Tater Joe’s site primarily consists of over 200 clawhammer banjo tabs by Ken Torke and almost 150 fiddle transcriptions by Mark Wardenburg.  The fiddle tune pdf’s also contain chords, making them especially helpful to mandolin, guitar and bass players.  Torke and Wardenburg both play in the Pig’s Foot String Band, and I believe Ken Torke is the one who maintains the Tater Joe's site.   

Pig's Foot String Band
Some of these tunes are ones I haven't seen the notes for anywhere else, and it looks as though new transcriptions are being added all the time – with a few as recently as this month.  The site also features recordings and transcriptions from mandolin player Caleb Klauder’s (Foghorn Stringband) Walker Creek Music Camp Old-Time Mandolin Workshop from October 2013.  Very cool!

Tater Joe’s is a site worth checking out and checking back in on often. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Custom Made Left-Handed Electric Mandolin For Sale

Buy now - $400 or best offer!!!  US buyers preferred.

Still available - a custom lefty Blue Star Mandoblaster electric mandolin made by Bruce Herron in Michigan.  Excellent condition.
the LH Blue Star Mandoblaster I'm selling
Natural satin finish
Rosewood fretboard
Upgraded hum-canceling Dimarzio pickup
TKL gig bag included
Back of electric mandolin - notice the nice grain seen in the natural finish

Closeup of the lefty Blue Star Mandoblaster headstock
Below is an audio sample:

Let me know if you have any questions.  If you’re interested in buying this one-of-a-kind electric mandolin make an offer ASAP!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Keeping Music Simple: All You’re Really Doing Is Whistling

It’s no wonder that one of the primary instruments in Irish traditional music is called the tin whistle (emphasis on the word “whistle”).  Because, when it comes down to it, all one is really doing when playing traditional music is using a musical instrument to “whistle” the tune.  You don’t have to make it any more highbrowed than that.

All it takes is one instrument whistling the tune to make it musically complete.  Multiple melody instruments might get together to whistle the same tune in unison and although it could become more vibrant as a result, it would be no more complete. 

Using an instrument may give you more options than you’d encounter just from whistling – different fingerings, ornaments, embellishments and other accoutrements are at the gifted instrumentalist’s disposal – but there’s no real reason to get flashy with it.  Music is music and the tune is the tune. 

You can carry this concept over to other genres to a certain extent.  Almost anything you’d whistle out of your mouth can be played for enjoyment on an instrument.  You may not be able to whistle all of the Trey, Mike, Page, and Fishman parts to Bathtub Gin, but you still might find yourself whistling the melody to that Phish song, for example.

So, the next time you’re getting overwhelmed or frustrated with music, just whistle…it’ll set your mind at ease.  And by “whistle” I mean play your instrument!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Beyond Scales and Arpeggios: Some Tune-Based Practice Exercises

Liz Carroll
In a recent All Things Strings interview with Irish-American fiddler Liz Carroll, she was asked if she practices scales and arpeggios.  She responded that the tunes themselves are the practice:  “there are lots of nice runs within tunes, so I feel I get to practice arpeggios there”.

It was refreshing and encouraging to read this from an expert in traditional music because I have been trying to formulate a practice routine centered around tune-based exercises.  I believe an intellectual understanding of scales and arpeggios can be helpful when placed within the context of tunes.  The transition to mandolin is helping me flesh out this concept. 

Here are some tune based practice techniques that I am in the process of implementing:

Play the same phrase or lick in all keys using both open and closed strings.  Note how the same phrase is made in different ways.  Expand up on this by playing the whole tune in all keys using open and closed shapes.

Play the tune in a higher or lower octave if possible.

Play a tune or phrase in the same key but in at least 4 different positions on the neck:  1st position (pinky on 7th fret), 2nd position (ring finger on 7th fret), 3rd position (middle finger on 7th fret), 4th position (index finger on 7th fret) and so on.  The beginning phrase of the B-part of Arkansas Traveler is a good one to work with.

Be mindful of each where each note in the melody is in relation to the scale as well as the chord of the moment.  For example, a G note in the key of D is the 4th note of the scale, but could also be the root note of the IV chord.  A C# note in the key of D is the 7th note of the scale but might also be the 3rd note of the A chord.

Harmonize each note in the melody with what mandolin player Carl Jones calls a slant or reach (AKA a double stop).  This exercise puts the practice of harmonizing a scale to use within a tune.

Fill in quarter notes and other holes in the melody with arpeggios.

Transcriptions:  Practice transcribing unfamiliar tunes from Book/CD sets containing both the audio and notation.  Compare your transcription to the actual sheet music or tab.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Flatpicking Guitar Tabs for 4 Standard Fiddle Tunes

A few weeks back I got an acoustic guitar:  a pre-owned lefty Larrivee P-03 parlor guitar.  It’s a nice instrument and I’m lucky to have it.  I’m also lucky if I get in 15 minutes at the end of every other day for a little bit of flat-picking after I’m done with all my mandolin and tenor banjo playing.  Things are moving along slowly.  Coming from 4-stringed instruments and having never played guitar before, it’s pretty easy to get lost among the 6 strings.

Even on the guitar, melody is still king for me so I’m more concerned with playing tunes than strumming chords.  I’ve chosen 4 standard fiddle tunes as the first ones to learn on guitar:  Girl I Left Behind Me, Over the Waterfall, Redhaired Boy and St. Anne’s Reel.  Surprisingly, none of these tunes ever struck me as being particularly exciting to play on mandolin or tenor banjo, but the switch to guitar has brought new life to these familiar melodies.

I’ve been using the flat-picking guitar arrangements below to help memorize the tunes.  In each case I like the simple clean lines and the patterns these result in on guitar.  Perhaps there is something to these old favorites after all!

What do you think?!

The Murphy Beds to perform live web concert, Wed. April 2, 8pm EST

The Murphy Beds - photo by Jesse Daniel Smith
Tomorrow at 8:00 PM EST (Wednesday, April 2) the Murphy Beds (Eamon O'Leary and Jefferson Hamer) will be playing a live web concert, streaming courtesy of Concert Window. Here's a link:

This is the second installment in Concert Window's Songs from the Couch series, which is a new curated series of web shows, hosted and performed before a live studio audience. 
Log in now to reserve a seat. This is an interactive event, with chat, requests, virtual heckling, virtual tips – virtually anything!

The Murphy Beds perform traditional and original folk songs with close harmonies and deft instrumental arrangements on bouzouki, guitar, and mandolin.  Their self-titled 2012 debut was Six Water Grog's best of album from that year and now resides near the top of my all-time favorites.  This will be worth checking out if you are able to.