The Attractions of Youth

Barns Courtney is a name I only became somewhat familiar with a year ago. His song “Fire” has had quite a bit of radio play here in the US and I liked it enough to add it to my music collection, but that’s as far as my knowledge went.┬áTurns out he is fairly new as a solo musician, his first and only solo album having been released in 2015.

Barns was born in England, but spent his early years (from 4 to 15) in Seattle and I believe that influenced his overall sound enormously. He isn’t grunge at all, but there’s just something I can’t put my finger on that reminds me of it. Maybe it’s the weathered and heavy vocals? I don’t know, and if you have thoughts on this, let me know.

Wikipedia has Barns Courtney listed under blues rock and folk-pop, though I don’t really agree with that second one. His sound features a gritty, world-weary type of voice, reverb effects that make me feel like he recorded in a tunnel, and an overall gritty production style that is becoming increasingly common. I’m all for it, though I’ll be the first to admit it can get a little old after a short time. I wasn’t sure if I would find anything else he has released that I would like. I am happy to report that I did.

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Not every track on his only album caught my interest, but a few of them did. Honestly, since he is fairly new to the scene there isn’t a lot for me to try and digest so that’s all I really have to say. But I’m not stopping there; I’m taking advantage of the shorter post to get into detail on what I like and don’t like about individual tracks.

Shall we go through them one at a time? I’ll add a Youtube link to each one if you’d like to hear it.

First up, “Fire”

This song is well structured. The chorus has a nice build and energy that grows naturally and dramatically from the calmer verse. The instrumentation is simple as it needs to be, emphasizing the vocals and effects while remaining interesting. The bridge brings to mind images of old western movies with a whistled countermelody put to great effect along with vocal exclamations running underneath. It’s a great song, and I am completely unsurprised at its popularity.

“Golden Dandelions”

With a higher tempo and a more melodic vocal line, it’s set apart from “Fire” though this track still has his signature sound. The thing that stands out the most is the heavy reliance on drums throughout the song, but especially in the verse. He seems to continue his structure pattern of ABABCB that is so common throughout pop music, but that’s not a bad thing. Overall, I really like this track, and it has an interesting music video.

“Hellfire”

The first thing he did right with this song was having the intro set the tone before a dramatic pull back for the first verse. Like in “Fire”, he has a natural and dramatic build up from the verse to the chorus. The beat is infectious, not in a danceable way, but rather in a head-nodding way. His gritty sound is amplified with this one.

“Hobo Rocket”

This song starts with some random spoken words from a “hobo” that made it stick out a bit. There is a rhyme scheme in the verse that makes me think of 90’s rock pretty strongly, but all of the elements blend together very well. One example would be the background vocals with a chorus effect put to excellent use alongside the main guitar line. It transitions into the next track on the album titled “Hobo Outside Tesco, London – Interlude” This track is pretty much an extension of “Hobo Rocket” with spoken rhyme audio from what I expect was a hobo outside of a Tesco in London. It’s different and was a nice break in the middle of the album.

 

“Champion”

This is an anthem for conquering something. I imagine it being used in a car commercial or a movie montage about someone becoming stronger for whatever sport or fight they need to face. Really, it’s a little like this generations version of “Eye of the Tiger” Please note I am not comparing the two songs, just pointing out that’s the general feeling inspired by this song. I mean, the chorus lyrics are literally “champion, I can take a beating, I’ll rise again, burning through the jungle until the end” If that doesn’t spell out the storyline to every sports movie that came after the original Rocky, I don’t know what does. I quite like it, though for some reason I want that movie montage to take place in a corporate office featuring someone sweating over powerpoints, sales calls, and coffee breaks… Anyway, his voice and the effects they put on it are ideally suited to a song like this.

“Kicks”

Another great song for a movie montage, the chorus is something you can really rock out to, the pre-chorus is the perfect change in style leading to the chorus, and the verses are nicely short to make the whole thing move at a good pace. Now that I think about it, he seems to have mastered making his songs short enough to never get really old. If they were longer tracks I probably wouldn’t like them as much. There isn’t a single track that exceeds 4 minutes on this album.

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And that’s it. If you like his style, please check out the whole album. I was pretty glad to have an artist that didn’t have hours upon hours of music for me to listen to, this project is a little tough sometimes.

 

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Lucille

Before we get started, it’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I adore the blues. You can reference my post on Aynsley Lister as well and you’ll see what I mean so I’ll try not to rhapsodize about the many virtues of Blues again. Wouldn’t want to be redundant.

On with the post…

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It is a well-known fact that B.B. King’s guitar is named Lucille.

B.B. King said Lucille was a reminder for him, both not to brawl over a woman and never to run into a burning building. There’s a great story there, and if you listen to his song “Lucille” you’ll hear it in his own words. Playing guitar was B.B. King’s life. It was such a part of him and his style seems to have a personality all it’s own, so I’m not surprised in the least that his guitar had a name. Lucille’s sound is very identifiable, and it was strongly linked to King’s singing voice as well. He would essentially sing duets with Lucille, trading off lyrics in his voice and soulful expression from Lucille.

B.B. King is the prototypical blues guitarist, and the way he plays that lovely guitar Lucille is something that guitarists have striven to emulate for decades. I myself am primarily a bass player, but one day I hope to be proficient enough on the guitar to play delta blues like B.B. King, though I know I’ll never achieve his level of skill.

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B.B. King (whose name was Riley, actually) was heralded as the King of the Blues, along with Freddie King and Albert King, and rightly so. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, and boy was B.B. an expert at the Blues. Something I don’t think a lot of people realize is how much work is involved in being a professional musician. B.B. King wasn’t a great guitar player because he was just naturally gifted. He wasn’t just “discovered” one day – he set out to make it happen. He was a phenomenal musician because he dedicated his life to being so, even at the cost of other things. For example, his two divorces have been attributed to his heavy work schedule, something like 250 performances a year. In fact, in 1956 alone he had 342 performances and three recording sessions. He played and performed until he died, just as he said in his song “Riding With The King”

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B.B. set the stage for blues artists for decades. And let’s be real, if your career is playing a genre of music spans 60-odd years, you probably have had some influence over a lot of musicians.

In fact, B.B. King has more albums on Spotify than Aretha Franklin, more than 70, and I’m not ashamed to admit I lost count. He led an incredibly long career, spanning from 1949 to 2015 when he died. He was a dedicated musician as well as a philanthropist. He was very public about being diagnosed with diabetes, and ultimately it was consequences from his diabetes that led to his death.

If you want to know more about B.B. King’s life and career, I really recommend the official BB King website, there’s a great article on the main page that gets into it a bit more.

I fell into a Youtube rabbit hole in getting ready for this post, and there were too many great videos for me to share. Please feel free to check out some of it, there are tons of amazing videos of him playing with other renowned guitarists. For this post, I’ll stick with this simple version of “Sweet Sixteen”

There are obviously a lot of great songs and albums in his repertoire, though a number of them have repeats and a number are live albums. If I were to suggest any of his Albums, I would first suggest his collaboration with Eric Clapton, Riding With The King, it is now one of my favorite albums ever. I would also suggest Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. B. B. King, as a fantastic collection of all his best tunes. Don’t disregard his earlier work either, I was jamming out even when I made it back to his albums from the 50’s and 60’s.

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As far as individual songs go, I now have 26 of his songs in my own music library, though I could easily add more. I’ll spare you the whole list and just give you my top 10 favorite tracks. This doesn’t include his collab. stuff, by the way, so feel free to check that out on your own if you’re interested, especially the album Deuces Wild.

Top 10 tracks:

“The Thrill Is Gone” – this song alone has something like 50 versions by B.B. King on Spotify.

“Lucille”

“How Blue Can You Get” It took me a while to realise this was a song sampled in a super chill song I know called “Standing Outside A Broken Phonebooth” by Primitive Radio Gods.

“Ghetto Woman”

“Caldonia”

“Alexis’ Boogie”

“To Know You Is To Love You”

“Sneakin’ Around”

“Is You Or Is You Ain’t (My Baby)”

“Sweet Sixteen”

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Seriously go listen to some B.B. King. Right now. Don’t let this important part of your personal music education get away from you!

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

For this post, I was delving into essential 1970’s rock. Seriously, Bachman-Turner Overdrive (hereafter referred to as BTO) is the epitome of classic rock.

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The one song I already had on my Spotify list before checkong out the rest of their library was “Takin’ Care Of Business”. It’s a great song, perfect for staying motivated and getting things done. It has an easy to find beat and it’s a fun song to sing along to. It even has a great breakdown halfway through the song with a rather distinct guitar solo and a great use of piano accenting everything throughout. A great song for the whole band to rock out to.

When I proceeded to dive further into BTO’s music, I realized I knew some of their other stuff already. Seriously, they have a bunch of classic songs people know really well, “Takin’ Care Of Business” being just one of many.

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I did a bit of reading about the band and it’s line-up changes and such, but I really wasn’t interested in that. What I was interested in was the sound they made. I already mentioned they have an iconic ’70’s rock sound, and while all of their work firmly belongs to that genre, they didn’t let anything box them in. They have songs that are pure rock with driving rhythms and guitar solos, but they also have fun playing with different tones for their guitars, use drums to be dynamic as well as driving, balance multiple guitars and tones into a beautifully cohesive way, and throw in some extra elements (such as extra piano or cowbell) to add more flavor to a song.

Thanks to SNL and Christopher Walken, anytime I hear a cowbell I immediately notice it and it becomes all I can focus on during the rest of a song. Luckily, that wasn’t the case for me while listening to BTO, though I wouldn’t necessarily want more of it.

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Altogether, I have been impressed by this band. Great songs that stand the test of time and smooth grooves for me to rock out to are an excellent way to make me a fan. If I were to make a BTO top ten tracks list it would be as follows:

“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” – This has a great rhythm guitar pulling it along and an excellent hook as well as a fun lead guitar tone that pops up after the first verse. I’d karaoke the heck out of this one.

“Blue Collar” – Very different in tone than I expected, it has a handful of different guitar tones that really compliment the song beautifully. Seriously, sometimes a wah pedal just pulls me out of the song if it’s too strong or not suited to the rest of the instrumentation, but this was just right. And to pair it with at least 2 other guitar tones vastly different and have it match, plus the very jazzy drums/guitars and tempo change combo at the end, really sell it.

“Takin’ Care Of Business” – As mentioned above.

“Hey You” – A prime example of their overall style. Check it out.

“Roll On Down The Highway” – Great road trip song.

“Lookin Out For #1” – Smooth and chill, comparable to “Blue Collar”

“Not Fragile” – Heavier rock sound, power chord driven.

“It’s Over” – The beginning chord structure made me think of “American Woman” but it’s actually quite different. And pretty awesome.

“Quick Change Artist” – This one is just really fun. Classic BTO style

“Hold Back The Water” – Also awesome. Great use of chorus style vocals.

I guess that’s ten, but if you like those, here’s a bonus: “Welcome Home”

I’ve really enjoyed listening to BTO, and am so glad I know more of their music. I am especially a fan of their guitar work, though the rest of the band are no slouches! This is another group I want to thank our northern neighbors for. Thanks, Canada!

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Go check out this great classic rock band, and happy listening!

 

P.S. If this isn’t the most 70’s picture, I’ll eat my hat*.

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*I won’t actually eat my hat. That would be weird. And indigestible.

Soundman

I am a sucker for blues guitar. Really, there’s nothing like it for me; that raw, heavy, and grinding sound of a funky blues solo being wrenched out of the amp. I am enthralled every time I hear a blues song that really drives it home. Anytime I listen to it, I just want to crank up the volume and let it wash over me.

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There are way too many sub-genres in the blues. Blues is more categorized by the type of scale and arrangement patterns used than anything else, which means it’s a little all-encompassing. For example, the following artists are all known for having songs categorized as blues: Albert King, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, The Black Keys, ZZ Top, John Mayer, Etta James, Jack White, Led Zeppelin, etc. That’s just a small sampling, and some of those are not anything like another.

Here is a link to a list of blues genres if you’re interested. The page also has a list of blues-like genres at the bottom.

For the sake of the rest of this post, I will be talking about what has been called Texas Blues, the gritty kind of blues-rock I would stereotypically picture being played in a bar on the edge of town frequented by a couple of biker gangs. It is characterized by jazz-influenced improv and single string electric guitar accompaniment. It’s been around since the early 1900’s but really began to flourish in the American south in the late 60’s and 70’s pulling influences from country as well as other blues-rock sounds.

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It is really hard to stand out in a genre that has so many masters. Stevie Ray Vaughn, B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, ZZ Top, Eric Clapton, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you can stand out in such a genre, more power to you. Most often when I’m listening to blues, I do so via internet radio stations and don’t actually know what artist I’m listening to at any given time. Occasionally, if I’m listening via Spotify, I’ll save a good song I like to my music library.

Which is exactly how I found the artist that inspired this post. Aynsley Lister is a good guitarist, and I enjoy his compositions. Despite how hard it is for contemporary artists to measure up to the famous blues artists of the past he does an admirable job. I had just one of his songs on my Spotify to start with, called “Soundman”. This song tickled my fancy since I have worked in the live performance industry and with various sound guys in my career; I found the lyrics relatable and humorous, and the guitar style enjoyable.

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Aynsley Lister hails from England and started playing guitar at the ripe old age of 8, performing his first concert at age 13. His guitar work is great, though I admit I find his voice a little annoying at times. Overall, kudos to him for finding something he loves so early on in life and continuing to work on it throughout his career. He’s been performing as a solo artist since 1995 and is still going strong. Well done, sir!

My top 5 tracks for Aynsley Lister are as follows:

“Soundman”

“Crazy” (a fantastic Gnarls Barkley cover)

“Inside Out”

“Upside Down”

“Always Tomorrow”

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Aynsley Lister is a good blues artist, and I’m glad he has inspired me to listen to so much Texas blues this past week or so, I have really enjoyed it! Makes me want to go find a blues bar to just hang out and listen to live music.

Check out some blues music this week! If you have any blues artists you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear it!

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And here’s a bonus: a clip from the movie Adventures In Babysitting which is where I derived the name of my blog from. Enjoy!