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June 16, 2005

Stealing Music

I shortchanged the blog again yesterday, starting an article that grew and then pulling it out for Plokta. I passed it round to my co-editors today; one liked it, the other said, roughly, oh, it's music again, why do you want to write about music? I will think about that, but meanwhile I will write about music until the urge wears off.

glenn macdonald writes about stealing music. I rarely think 'I wish I'd written that' about the things I read, but I wish I'd written this. glenn iterates a dozen or so reasons why he's downloaded particular albums illicitly rather than paying for them, and I recognised all of them. Meanwhile, the 463 new tracks in the last three months have increased to 630, mostly due to eMusic overflowing with fabulous new things, including lots of albums I'd been meaning to buy for a while.

In many cases, the reason I'd been meaning to buy the album is that someone gave me a copy of a CD, or tracks off their iPod, and the stuff I didn't own got Shuffled up with the stuff I did own till the only way I could spot whether I owned it or not was by the lack of album art. And sometimes a vague feeling of guilt. And after a little while I think about it, and decide either that I like and should buy it, or that I don't like and should delete it, or that I'm not sure and should hang onto it for a while and decide again a little later.

I've lost count of the bands that I've bought music by because once upon a time, someone pressed a tape, or a CD, or some downloads on me, and said 'you would like this'.

At Easter I caught a couple of friends swapping some bluegrass, and allowed as how my collection was rather weak in bluegrass, and could they do me an extra copy? And in this way I acquired a CD of mixed bluegrass. It got mixed in with the shuffle, and most of doesn't feel quite right for me, though I'm not sure enough yet to delete it.

The exception is White Room by the Cache Valley Drifters. This may be the easiest listening ever; delicious soft rock played in a bluegrass style, with sharp musicianship that proudly displays its roots. A simpler, cleaner, Eagles, with great songs that seep into your brain. This is the sort of album I can't imagine anyone not liking, for all I know in practice that there's no universal music.

My favourite tracks here are both edgy ballads about drifters, "Opal Eyes" and "Joanne". I don't know either of these from elsewhere, and they're great. It's a staple of American music, the charming, feckless men and the women they abandon, and you know that's what you've got when a song opens with "Lucas never had much use for money; it always fell like woodsmoke through his hands..."

The title track is the Cream song, and there's another famous cover, Boy in the Bubble. I like these treatments well; and I expect some of the other songs are covers too, just not ones I know. There's a discontinuity to familiar songs that are taken out of their setting that causes you to listen to them afresh.

Of course, covers like this are only a hairsbreath from Hayseed Dixie, who deliver songs in a very similar style primarily for laughs on "A Hillbilly Tribute to Mountain Love". I like those too, of course. That material is carefully chosen for its outrageous lyrics, which are sung clearly and lecherously in simple settings that leave you wondering how the original artists ever got away with it. It was the 70s, and even the fairly recent past is a foreign country.

The Cache Valley Drifters are altogether more subtle. You certainly still know that this is the stuff of America; not of the America that you can visit, but the one you find in songs, movies and adverts for chewing gum. Just the thing to put on the stereo so that you can imagine you're on Route 66 while stuck on the M1 south of Luton airport. I urgently need to own all their albums.

And I never, ever would have heard it if I hadn't been stealing music.

Posted by Alison at June 16, 2005 10:52 PM


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