Back in when I was a teenager, I thought I knew the difference between good and bad music. In my twisted late ‘70s teenage way of thinking, I thought that bands with skinny ties and Rickenbackers were the good guys and bands with moustaches and mullets were messengers of the devil. Yeah, like any 14 or 15 year old, I thought I had a clue. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I realized that I had been wrong about a lot of things – especially music. And since 1981, I’ve tried to make up for my discretions by choosing to search for the lost chord, investigating new artists and styles while revisiting the bands I once scoffed at. For example, I once thought that AOR (AKA Stadium Rock and/or Melodic Rock) was predictable and repetitious. I thought it was simply rock-by-numbers and that none of those bands could write an original song or riff to save their lives. But then, I took a hard look at the New Wave and Power Pop that I was listening to and realized that many of my favorite bands were at least partially guilty of the same thing. And then I looked at Country, Jazz, Folk and every other genre and was overwhelmed by the fact that what I had initially heard as derivative was actually just updating and carrying the music forward for a new generation. And with that breakthrough in my thought process, I was able to enjoy – and often love – bands like Journey, Foreigner, Survivor and REO Speedwagon. But don’t get me wrong – I’m still fully devoted to the Power Pop and New Wave I’ve loved since 1977. I just like to think that my tastes are much more varied than the casual music fan. OK, I’ll admit it – I’m a ‘music nerd’. Whatever that is…
Being a ‘child star’ is a blessing and a curse. Initially, the ‘blessing’ offers the young performer early stardom and adulation. However, the ‘curse’ revolves around the child star growing older and losing their innocent charm. Sadly, the pressures of maintaining your popularity AND experiencing the trials and tribulations of your teenage years and young adulthood is a very difficult task. Some child stars cannot handle the pressure and spend a good portion of their lives drowning in a sea of drugs and alcohol. Thankfully, there are exceptions to the rule and some of those ‘former child stars’ manage to grow older gracefully while staying out of the tabloids. Some of them leave the business while others turn their attention to other aspects of entertainment (directing, writing, etc.). And then there’s Jackie Evancho. Not only has she survived child stardom, she has succeeded beyond all imagination.
When tracing the history of American music, Bluegrass is still a relatively young genre. Hollywood may have added a decade onto Bluegrass’ age by using it as the soundtrack to Bonnie & Clyde’s exploits in the 1967 film, but the truth is that the genre didn’t exist until long after the duo’s 1934 death. While variations of the sound most likely developed a few years before it became mainstream, Bluegrass became a phenomenon in the mid-‘40s and is one of the few styles of music that has continued to progress while also remaining true to its roots – the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even though modern Country Music bears little to no resemblance to the Country & Western of the ‘40s, Bluegrass is still Bluegrass – honest and pure.
Pop music is a strangely wonderful artform. On the surface, it can sound deceptively simple and carefree. However, like a calm and inviting ocean, mystery lies beneath the windswept ripples. The melodies may dance around in the ether but there are a lot of moving parts that make them seem effortless. Every beat, every bass thump, every electronic whirl, every guitar strum, and every harmony is there for a reason. It is up to you, the listener, to realize what that reason is. Yes, you can read interviews and find out what the artists’ intents are but often times, they don’t fully realize the meaning of their songs until years later. On the other hand, one song can mean something different to nearly every person that listens to it. And that, in and of itself, is one of the great mysteries of Pop music.
DAVE RAYBURN: The Infamous Stringdusters draw comparisons to the high and lonesome sound of Ricky Skaggs and Ralph Stanley all the way up to more contemporary jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish. To someone who has never heard your music before… if you had to pick three artists that, in combination, best reflect what you do… who would those three descriptors be?
CHRIS PANDOLFI: The list of collective Stringduster influences is long and very wide ranging, but the Grateful Dead are definitely toward the top of the list. The Dead are hugely influential in a musical sense, with their amazing songwriting and experimental jams, all designed to translate in a live environment. But they are perhaps even more influential in a business sense, with their tribe of loyal fans and the organic growth it creates. Another huge influence would be Strength in Numbers, the iconic supergroup of progressive pickers that pushed the boundaries of what the bluegrass instruments are capable of. I’d also put Tony Rice high on the list of influences. Tony embodies all the best parts of bluegrass music, with his astounding playing and innovative style, combined with a soul factor that outshines his unreal technical prowess. He had the songs and he had the soul, and those are both things that we are always striving to achieve in our music.
I can only imagine (no pun intended) a Beatles fan spinning John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s THE WEDDING ALBUM for the first time. I mean, it most certainly isn’t THE WHITE ALBUM or ABBEY ROAD, is it? “Which cut is the single? Where are the hooks? Wait, never mind the hooks – where are the songs? And where on earth is the Rock ‘n’ Roll?” OK, so maybe fans weren’t exactly thinking those thoughts since THE WEDDING ALBUM was John and Yoko’s third release as a duo (and their first as a bona fide married couple) and their avant-garde recordings were certainly nothing new. Remember the UNFINISHED MUSIC NO. 1: TWO VIRGINS album featuring John and Yoko on the album cover in all of their nakedness? Then there was UNFINISHED MUSIC NO. 2: LIFE WITH THE LIONS, which featured a cover photo of John and Yoko in her hospital room shortly after a miscarriage. In essence, John and Yoko’s first three albums were far from light-hearted affairs. These were albums that expressed their emotions in unique ways – through experimental recordings. Yes, there were other artists who made avant-garde recordings… but they weren’t associated with the biggest Rock band in history!
Thanks to American Idol, The Voice and other like-minded TV shows plus the influence of YouTube, it is perfectly understandable that kids today think that the path to a successful musical career is easy and that nearly anyone can be a star overnight. However, reality paints a darker picture. It is often overlooked that nearly 90% of all TV talent show winners end up without a hit record to their name and they fade away into obscurity almost as quickly as they rose to fame. On the other hand, there are still plenty of modern artists who have toiled in relative obscurity for years before becoming ‘overnight sensations’. While not exactly obscure, indie Blues/Rock outfit Reignwolf has taken the long road and is finally releasing their debut album seven years after the band first formed.
In the music industry, fame can be fleeting but true success is measured by the lasting impact the musician’s art has on the listener/consumer. For example, let’s look back at the year 2000. There were a lot of big worldwide hits that year by well-known artists (U2, Bon Jovi, Madonna, Britney Spears, etc.) and some long-forgotten artists as well (Darude, BBMak, Wheatus, MxPx). While many of the hits from that year are still fondly remembered, an equal amount of chart-climbers have been tossed aside like an old stick of bubble gum – chewed up and spit out once they were out of flavor. However, there are singles released in ’00 that were not only lovingly embraced by music fans but also inspired a new generation of musicians. A few of those – including “Babylon” – were released by British singer/songwriter David Gray. The success of his WHITE LADDER album took many by surprise yet it was far from an overnight success…
Nova Scotia, Canada has given us some fine musical talent over the years. Anne Murray, Denny Doherty (The Mamas & The Papas), Sarah McLachlan, Feist, members of April Wine and Sloan, Holly Cole, and Hank Snow are just a few of the native Nova Scotians that have made their mark in Rock history. There are many others, of course, and there will be many in the years to come. Singer/songwriter Steve Poltz hails from Nova Scotia as well. However, he kickstarted his musical career as a member of San Diego legends The Rugburns. For over two decades – and releases on Priority and Bizarre/Planet Records – The Rugburns has remained a sorely underappreciated outfit. Alongside The Rugburns’ trio of releases (two albums and an EP) and a dozen solo albums, Poltz is also known as the co-writer of his former girlfriend Jewel’s multi-platinum hit “You Were Meant For Me,” which reached #2 on Billboard. In short, Poltz has achieved quite a bit in a career that, by and large, has been under the radar. Perhaps it is time for more listeners to get to know Steve a bit more intimately with his 2019 album SHINE ON…
Smooth Jazz and New Age music are genres that have always received the short end of the stick. Jazz purists and Rock critics have continually written the music off as ‘lifeless’ and/or ‘boring.’ However, both Smooth Jazz and New Age have survived decades of critical neglect thanks to a large – and continually growing – audience. And why has this music survived and prospered for so long? Because the music connects with the listener in a way that most musical styles don’t. These are not genres that have continually gone after the big bucks. This is music created from emotion – sadness, joy, desire, etc. – and because it comes from an honest place, listeners can easily absorb those feelings that went into creating the art. In turn, they bond with the music because of those emotions. It becomes a very personal experience. And isn’t that what helps us get through life? All of those very personal experiences, good or bad? Thankfully, music will always fall on the side of good.