The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Blues and the Digital Age: Part One...what do you do when you can have anything you want?

I don't know about you, but the digital age of mp3s is the golden age of blues collecting...I used to cover around a dozen used record shops in a regular weekly circuit in a constant attempt to have the rarest blues. All of which, of course, sounded great, no matter how loud the scratch noises were or tinny the sound.

In maybe a few years, we'll probably see that the digital age was very similar to the 78rpm era. Music became a singles medium again (as it should be), and the sound quality somewhat primitive. The convenience of compressed files is sort of offset by the noticable lack of sound quality. Since I do most of my listening in a car, that's not a big issue, but when listening on a good stereo (or at least as good as I care to buy, I used to play my blues records through a guitar amp) it's obvious that the music is mixed for earbud earphones. The highs are emphasized, the bass range narrowed, drums way up, and everything is compressed within what seems like a 10 mghz range. In other words, the music loses it's "space." On a Led Zepplin song, this is noticable, on an old 78 reissue, not so much.

I'll comment more on this in the future, I imagine, but let's face it, if you like old blues, you were never concerned with excellent sound quality anyway. In fact, my preference on old 78 reissues is that there be no editing of the sound whatsoever...sometimes I'll hear a remastered old blues with the scratch noises cut out (along with a lot of the highs) and it'll sound strange to I'm in a library or something...actually, if you've only been in a modern library you won't know what I'm talking about...I remember sampling some music one time in one and couldn't even hear the music over the screaming of little kids and people talking on cell phones...I treated scratch noises likes the veil one has to see through to look into the past, and frankly consider it a part of the music. I also like electronic music, which is similar...

The one thing that being on services like Rhapsody or iMesh did was make it possible to have all the old blues you could eat...early on I would download the entire Blind Lemon Jefferson catalogue just to have it, and of course, never listen to it. Sure felt good knowing I had every slide piece every recorded, must have had a couple hundred Tampa Red numbers, for example.

Which brought out a stark fact about the 78 era...many of the artists would record dozens of the same song with only a couple of variations because they were paid a flat fee per song. At his peak, for example, Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of the best selling artists of his time, but died broke because once the music stopped, so did his income. His catalogue is huge, beyond what a sane person will listen to unless they're a Blind Lemon fanatic.

I eventually had to become a discerning listener when I filled up a couple of terrabyte drives and my iTunes app slowed to a crawl. In the old Delta Snake newsletter days, it was a lot easier...I listened to what was sent to me for review, and even when it got busier, I still had time to listen to each record. In the digital age, my collection is over 500 gigabytes (and that's after pruning out 400 gigabytes in the past year). Also, in the CD era, one had to prioritze...I couldn't get every record Guitar Mac or Roy Rogers ever put out because I still needed to fill in my Chess or Stax collection. Well, now I have all of it, and it doesn't fill up a room, and one of these days I'll stop collecting the stuff and start listening to it.

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