The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Greatest Blues Car Songs Continued: Number 5 and 6.

Decided to add numbers 6 and 5 to the top ten list, and introduce the new CADDY Speedometer Rating system, which as a disclaimer, is for entertainment purposes only and isn't a recommendation of how fast you should drive while listening.
Continuing on here with the list.....

6. Paul Gayten & Friends: "Cow Cow Blues" (78RMP Collection, Amazon, etc). As many of you know, or may not know, the word Cow is a popular word in song titles, though not as much as evil women or no good guys. This is one of the most enjoyable swing piano boogie instrumentals ever, and an essential part of any collection. It opens up with a tinkly piano riff, done on the far right of the keyboard, and it pretty much stays there while a great walking bass rolls in, accentuated by a drummer who isn't trying to be too smooth. In fact, that's part of this group's charm, it all sounds offhanded and casual, but it's more a case of music done so well that it sounds easy.

CADDY Speedometer Rating: Perfect at 30mph, but please don't go 30 on the freeway just because it sounds perfect at that speed.

5. Bill Haley & His Comets: Rudy's Rock. Many of Haley's greatest hits compilations have this one, but before buying "Rock Around The Clock," check out this one. Basically it's a loose, very swinging and rocking jam featuring the sax player, and it's like with the Paul Gayten cut, has a loose jam feel. Except, once again, these guys are just too good to sound like they're just jamming. If you like Roomful of Blues, this cut will blow you away. It's always on my iPod, and I may ask Apple to please hard wire it into my next one.

CADDY Speedometer Rating: Perfect at freeway speed, and at 35mph if there's not too many stoplights. Otherwise, use at any speed, or slip it into the queue at a party as the perfect antidote to playlists with excessive amounts of guitar blues.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Greatest Blues Car Songs: Continued....

Continuing along with the top ten list of greatest blues car song...

We were at number seven, for those of you just tuning in...

7. Galactic: "Wild Man" (Other Side Of Midnight: Live In New Orleans). When talking about great New Orleans bands, of course the Meters are on top...but, this hard charging New Orleans funk band is one of the songs that's making commuter traffic feel like a good excuse to listen to music. They have some Meter's influence, but it's a harder funk, with some jazz overtones. This is one of the few live albums I've heard that make you wish you'd have been there. The hot cut, in my opinion, is Wild Man, a pounding medium tempo funk that avoids the usual mistake modern funk bands make, which is, playing too much. Less notes, less beats, lots of soul. Those who download on Rhapsody, iMesh and other sites can't miss with this song. If you're on iTunes, it'll be one of the best dollars you ever spent.

8. Major Lance: "Rhythm" (Everybody Loves A Good time: Best of Major Lance). "Rhythm" is from a 40 track compilation that's pretty much available everywhere on the download sites and in CD. Lance was mainly known for his big hit, "Monkey Time," but those who think that sophisticated Soul music was only found at Motown (and the Impressions) should take a listen here. You'll find a singer who could sing pretty much anything, almost as good as Sam Cooke, and had a absolutely listenable big band soul sound (with conga like a lot of the early 60s soul had) style that sounds as good on a summer night as anything ever recorded. Rhythm opens with a call and response and glides along with a soul-pop mix that goes along with a cadillac better than a whitewall spare tire. You can see where Laura Nyro's early sound came from. Major Lance has to be one of the most underrated singers of all time, this guy should have been as big as the Drifters or the Temptations.

More detailed listening in progress, numbers 5 and 6 coming along....

Vinyl Records: How Sweet The Sound?

There are some good reasons to prefer vinyl records, but let's face it, it's also been turned into a marketing gimmick by labels desperate for new income streams in an age where people are buying less high profit ticket items like CDs.

I've been an avid music collector all my life. Like many of you who owned vinyl back in the day, my record collection often took up most of a room. The thin record covers gave us the illusion that the things were as easy to store as books. Until you filed enough away to go from a few thin items on your shelf to a large square or rectangle of records that were as heavy as a bowling ball collection. Which then ended up in milk cartons or crates, or just on the floor.

But that's another subject...what I find interesting is the notion that the vinyl LP is the best way to listen to music in the digital age. There are geeky technical reasons, generally centered around round and square wave theory, and the concept that sound can have "warmth" and so on.

Labels ushered in the era of CDs with high prices, promises those would become cheaper and kept prices high by adding extra q1content beyond the ability of most artists to provide it. As a result, the CD age inadvertently reverted to the 60s rock era, where artists would be given a decent amount of time and resources to produce singles, and then very little to fill out the rest of the album. In the case of reissues, the music was often dubbed indifferently or in haste to CD, and often sounded worse than vinyl.

When I think of vinyl, a story comes to mind...back in the mid-70s, a friend bought a 2,000 dollar (in mid-70 dollars!) stereo system and proudly showed it off. He went on about balancing the turntable arm, the cartridge needle, and it was set perfectly to bring the best out of an LP. It also so sensitive that the tone arm skipped and bounced around if anyone walked within 6 feet of the turntable.

Then he explained that vinyl needed to be virgin, not recycled (not very green), that pressings for the general public were of poor quality...

...and...didn't fully capture the fidelity of the original master tape...

The sound of that master tape, which contained the music that we all later listened to, had to be transfered to a mold that produced the vinyl record. Depending on a myriad of conditions, the record might or might not truly transfer the sound successfully. That led to a sub-market of audiophile level records that took the sound from the original master tape, was remixed from this or that tape, or whatever.

Then you had the actual process of putting a needle on the record grooves, which then began the process of wearing out the grooves, which made the sound deteriorate, and of course, scratches on the vinyl that often made a popping sound as loud as the music and so forth.

If you read record reviews from that era, those are full of comments like "lousy pressing," and once you got more than 15 minutes of music on each side the volume started to drop as the grooves had to be made smaller, thus producing less sound...and leave a record in the sun? Forget it, it became as useful as a DOS software disc.

The whole thing about the vinyl debate isn't really about how good it sounds. A good pressing combined with well recorded music does create a beautiful product...the point is, that a record is really a mix that makes the music sound a certain way. That warmth is really distortion and how the sound is transmitted and projected, and the appeal of old records is really about how it sounds, not how good it is.

Classical music, for example, depends on warmth. A lot of acoustic instruments are playing music that in most cases was intended to produce blended sounds and textures. That type of music benefits from the lack or separation. Rock, on the other hand, thrives on it. That's how most rock is recorded, with each instrument recorded separately so each element can be manipulated in isolation first, then in combination. Metal music wouldn't sound as powerful unless you took the drums and guitar and made each sound like thunder.

If a digital CDs sounds sterile and cold, and it isn't due to the artist lacking soul (or talent for that matter), then it's really a technical problem. It all started as a digital signal on tape, and then was transferred to vinyl. That process "warmed up" the sound. In guitar amps, reproducing that warm sound is pretty much standard even on cheap amps. If you hear music live, that's probably as accurate as it will ever sound and any warmth due to what is used to amplify that sound.

If you like vinyl, it's probably due to the fact that you like how it sounds on your system.

Are today's CDs actually better sounding? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on how the music is played, how good the mikes are, how well it was produced and engineered, and of course, if the artist can function in a recording studio as well as in concert.

The fairest thing to say is, the reason vinyl is making a comeback is that digital hasn't been an obviously superior product. The labels who moved to digital had a huge advantage in that they could have put the entire digital signal of the original master tape or file onto a CD and do more than even the best vinyl could achieve. The current wave of "remastered" music reflects some technological improvements, but also shows that the industry will only put out as much effort as it takes to get your money.

Like every era of music before it, digital music has been produced with genius, incompetence, greed, carelessness, blatant disregard for the consumer (I mean, does a refrigerator company try to make people not let anyone else use the product), or some combination of the above.

Like a sports team full of high priced talent and still doesn't win the championship, digital music is still only as good as the people who make it. So far, they've only been good enough to make most people prefer it to vinyl.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Blues And The Digital Age: A New Golden Age?

There will come a time when it'll be recognized that the digitial age was one of the best things that could have happened to the blues.

The first "Golden Age" of the blues was the 20s and 30s, when the 78rpm record was the height of technology. Recorded music was a true novelty, and people were as nuts about it as they are about the internet today.

It was one of the few times when the music industry was close to being open to all and a reasonably level playing field for the artists. It still depended on businessmen with money, of course, but in those days, who knew what was good or what people would buy? Since no one knew with any real certainty, just about anybody who could play could find themselves in front of a wire style recorder, or an acetate cutter to make direct to disc recordings.

Thousands of artists were recorded and there wasn't a distribution channel (like Wal-Mart and rack jobbers) that could make or break an artist or label. People even sold records out of the back of a car trunk and as a whole, most of the records made were listened to. Whether or not this process ended up ripping artists off is a subject in itself, and I'll talk about it another time (as artists are still being ripped off now).

What eventually happened isn't a mystery. The business got big, each record had to be a hit, and if it wasn't, the artist was dropped and their music often placed in limbo.

Once the record business evolved into such a high stakes game, particularly in the LP era, the main outlet for the smaller artist became what would now be called Indie or Independent labels. The blues in particular became a mecca for small labels.

Which had it's risks. Many of the smaller labels brought in the one thing that can screw over an artist as thoroughly as having to play for free at an art festival for "exposure," that is "good intentions." In this case, the underlying recogition that a lot of the older blues would fade away into history without a determined attempt to preserve it. More than a few artists recorded music that's still in print for a flat fee or small advance, or wasn't paid at all for a reissue of their old recordings. With some small labels, the profits were often sunk into the next release and royalites not always paid out.

But a lot of the blues from that Golden Age did make it to digital thanks to those small labels, and the people who ran those often made no real money from it and often invested their own limited assets to reissue old 78 music or record a blues artist. Again, a truly fair look at the 60s blues revival would take a book, which is out of the scope of a blog entry like this one.

What is clear is the advent of mp3s as a music technology standard has empowered the average blues artist to an extent well beyond the early 78 era.

The old way of getting your music out, even with small labels, was either find someone who would invest in the cost of putting a record out (plus distribution and promotion), or doing it yourself (and be possibly treated with some contempt by the industry as a self or vanity publisher). The bottleneck was always that your music had to be judge worthwhile by someone else.

That's an interesting subject in itself. Whether or not the record industry is the best judge of music. I recall reading recently that some record executive complained that the digital age had clogged up the market with a lot of junk, or something to that effect.

Which would, to anyone with any, and I mean any common sense, rolling on the floor laughing out loud. Record companies have put out a lot of great and even classic music...but they've also put out as much mediocre and time wasting product as our Congress. The fact is, the business model of trying to find a mega star is a wasteful and destructive process.

That process always ends up in the same front of a listener, who'll then decide whether to buy it or not. Whether or not the music cost a million to produce or was recorded in a living room, it'll be listened to by someone who won't care what it took to bring it to market...just how good it sounds to them...and that person, if they're anything like me, prefers to shop from a wide variety of sources and choices.

Indie level Blues artists, or even a talented New Age pianist like Peggy Leyva-Conley might have had a chance to make it within the industry itself, but the digital age guarantees that even if a label doesn't record them, their music will not only stay in print longer, but will be always available. They can just put it out themselves without the huge financial barrier the industry established in the 60s, and not worry about the tight time frame the labels want to see a return on their was a barrier designed to make sure the record labels controlled the output, even if the real power was with the distributors (who had the power to control what came out).

In other words, digital made distribution open to all.

Throughout most of the what we call music history, the real power was in distribution. If Wal-Mart doesn't like your lyrics, then 99.999% of the time the label will make you record a PG-rated version for the market. If the rack-jobbers didn't carry you, you were small time at best...period.

Even the constant struggle with the labels and iTunes over pricing is really just a side show, the real conflict is that the labels want to dictate distribution. If iTunes, which controls much of the digital market ever folds and obediently does what the labels tell them to out.

Back to the blues...The mp3 age has created an environment where a blues artist can not only produce a record, but distribute it at small cost. When I'm on a site like iMesh, for example, I not only see thousands of artists that never would have shown up even at a used record store, but entire back catalogues are available for the classics. It never would have occurred to me to own everything Charley Patton ever recorded, as it would have cost too much. Now, the scope of his genius is available to me, and all the pleasures that having such a complete collection of his music brings.

Before, a small label blues artist would have to spend thousands to produce a record, just to find it a struggle to find places to sell it. Most of the big distributors wouldn't touch a small label record. Now, it can be online, and on a site like Rhapsody, well worth my time to download and sample with a royalty paid to the artist (small as it is, it's still payment). Back when CDs were over 12.00 a pop, it was hard to want to try out a new artist.

Like all Golden Ages, the freedom of digital will pass...but the music industry will never be the same, and for now, about as fair to both the consumer and the artist as it will ever be.

The Virtual 45 Listening Booth: MP3 Samples

One of my favorite record stores in the 70s was this little place in San Jose's Valley Fair, back when it was a sleepy open air mall. It only sold singles, and had the best selection in the valley. Even Tower Records couldn't match it.

What made it especially popular was that it still had the old fashioned listening booths from the 50s. You could take a singles into one, put it on a record player and listen before buying. You couldn't do that with vinyl LPs, of course, but 45s were different. Singles were tougher, made to be stacked higher than shoes in a closet, and could be abused with sandpaper and still play...which was about what the average kid did to a 45.

The digital age has brought that back, more or less. An mp3 never will wear out, so it can played endlessly in sample form before purchase. Record companies have never objected to this, otherwise there wouldn't be radio...but for a while, it wasn't possible to preview a song over the internet (at least easily). The concept of a compressed file helped, of course, but early 30 second samples often bogged down the older computers (if the software could even play a sound file). Nowadays, a 60 or 90 second segment is standard, and on sites like Myspace Music, you can hear the whole track.

The barrier to making sure you hear a good enough sound to fully appreciate the music is now moot. Most computers have speaker systems that make my old stereo sound like a phone speaker, and the average iPod type device puts out better sound than many old time headphones.

When you're dealing with a sample, though, there is the question: does the segment being played really show you what the song is really about? Many of the services now use excerpts instead of just starting the sample from the beginning of the song. Which can defeat the whole purpose of a song intro, which was to draw the listener in.

iTunes, for example, plays 60 second samples, which seem to be geared towards showcasing the most "interesting" part. One of my songs, for example, "Beach Dog," starts right when my mandolin part starts to climb in the progression with a minor passage. We added that part to put a wistful feel into the number, and it's exactly the part I would want someone to hear (as long as you're not going to hear the intro that was meticulously planned to make the listener involuntarily click the "buy" button).

On the other hand, Amazon also uses a excerpt, but the selection process seems haphazard...sort of like putting the phonograph needle down on a random part of the record. One of the Handa-McGraw & The International songs, "Trouble In Tucumcari," opens with a drum part that's designed to draw you in and make you dance your butt off baby, but the sample comes in later, and even I felt a little confused about what that piece was about.

This can be a problem with jazz...most jazz songs state a theme and then improvise from there, and it's common to go into a dissonant section to add tension before moving back to the main melody. Get a sample that has that part, and it can make the listener think it's a free jazz piece.

Blues...even more so...particularly with old Delta Blues. Many were essentially improvs over a rhythmic vamp, much like a modern rap song, and you really need to hear the story in the lyrics in many cases. Luckily, most were also technically mood songs also, so a sample can do a good job of communicating the feel.

Unless you can hear the whole song, it's never certain if it'll please your tastes. But there is important information that can be gleaned from even a 60 second listening.

Even on a computer speaker, mainly used for beeps and other notification sounds, it can be obvious if the song is well produced (for some, that's important) and a good match for what it'll actually be played on. If it sounds good on computer, it'll probably sound good on earbuds or in your car (that means the 90% of us who don't own thousand dollar stereo systems).

A song that sounds dull or quiet will generally need to be played at higher volume, or with the iPod set for "sound check" (amped up to be at the same volume of the louder songs). This is no big deal at home, but having to use more volume can affect battery life in a mobile device, so sound quality counts. Some mp3s show the effects of indifferent mastering and sound flat (illegal downloads commonly have poor sound in most cases), while others seem to just jump out of the speakers.

That quality of "loudness" is important. It can impact battery life as pointed out earlier, and how enjoyable the music is.

An mp3 has less signal and digital data, so enough of the music has to come through to make you do whatever it is you do with music. That's not a criticism, of has rarely come down to the market in it's purest form anyway, otherwise there'd no market for remastered albums. Whatever the artist or label intended you to hear, it was filtered to our ears, generally through small speakers, cheap stereos, and whatever the radio sounded like (and the old radio DJs could control that).

The silver lining is's listeners generally have standard access to equalizers, pre-set music mixes, better quality gear and music editing software. The aware consumer can always adjust things so the music is to their liking...

...if the music is good in the first place, but that's another subject.

The Internet Is Forever: Old Delta Snake stuff still online

After writing the last blog, I decided to actually see how many old Delta Snake reviews and articles were still online. It's not a comprehensive list, basically first page of a google search and a look at the pipl page, but it's a good view of some of my old writing.

One thing for sure, I'm glad I didn't do something stupid and put it on youtube or something...what you do really does stay online forever...


* Canned Heat "Future Blues" Review

The Canned Heat official page still carries the May 1996 (Vol 3., No.3) Snake
review of the Future Blues album.

* Fairfield Four "Wreckin' The House"

Using the most spectacular line from a review, which is common practice, and
reviewers know it...we all hoped back then to be quoted. " Breath-taking bass
and high harmonies, and explosive vocal climaxes that send chills down your
spine."--Al Handa,

* Boz Scaggs "Come On Home" Review

September 1997 review, scroll down about 3/4 down to get to that one.

* Fiona Boyes Press Section

Many blues artists probably don't even remember or realize there's a Delta Snake
quote in their press release or page. Here's one" Some of the most listenable
folk blues I've heard in a long time … a remarkable solo debut by an artist with
a lot of good music to come … who bears close watching in the future – Al Handa,
Delta Snake Review

* Delta Snake May 1997 No.19

This issue is still up in it's entirety. Reviewed included Roy Rogers, Percey
Mayfield, Ellen McIlwaine, Darrell Nulisch, Kenny Blue Ray, Son Lewis and many
many more.

* Maria Coyote

One of the things I always tried to do with the Snake was find blues artists
overseas...the first web issues, for example, found an Aborigine Blues artist,
and Maria was another from Sweden.

"For those who love the blues, there is a harmonica and guitarist named Maria
Coyote out of Sweden . Very powerful Delta blues style, with a freedom in
performance that was present in the 20´s when that genre was at it’s peak, and
not so common now. You can find her site at:
Her main is also interesting as she is a talented artist particularly in
AL HANDA, The Delta Snake blues, jazz, world music reviews and opinion, US

Al Handa was the Editor and Publisher of the Delta Snake Daily Blues, and the
Delta Snake Review.

* King of Maxwell Street

An old poem of mine that was published on the "Preserve Maxwell Street" Site. It
was part of a blues/jazz poetry work that's actually still in rough draft form
and in progress.

* The Colored Aristocracy: The Blues Banjo.

The Preserve Maxwell Street site exerpted from a longer article I had written
about the blues banjo. The title came from a Taj Mahal banjo piece.

* Back In The Day: A View Of The Blues

Ricky Bush, a writer who used to do reviews for the old Delta Snake, went on to
do a very good blues blog, and he talks a bit about his reviews.

* Chris Murphy Review

A Sept. '97 review I wrote for issue 20 of the Snake when it was an E-Zine (back
when the Internet was all about the Usenet.


The page reprinted my review of "Pure Religion And Bad
Company" that ran in issue NO. 19.

* Lady Blue And The Tramps quote

Group still uses an old quote from a Delta Snake review: Powerful, sultry
vocals, screamin' guitar, and a tight, dynamic rhythm section. "Listenable to
the extreme" (Al Handa, Delta Snake Blues).

* Paul Delay "American Voodoo" Review

This was from E-Zine version No.3, you can always tell because the slogan was
always "...bringing the thrill back to ASCII"

Monday, June 6, 2011

Greatest Blues Car Songs (and the truth about "best of" lists): Part One

I'm sure that most of you know that "best of" lists are not anything more than this or that person's opinion. America is addicted to "experts," and music is so monolithic that we all appreciate suggestions as to which artists we should make unbelievably wealthy.

I used to love writing up "Greatest Of All Time" list on my old Delta Snake Blues News. Not only did I get to talk about my favorite artists, but it let me write huge chunks of copy without worrying about narrative flow, structure, or even making sense. It gave me an added return on my often enormous expenditures on new and used records, and of course, showed a readership thirsting for blues knowledge how good my record collection was.

The fact is, we can never really know what the greatest rock songs were, or any genre, if that term is taken as an absolute. There might have been some rocker out there in New Zealand in 1974 (or whenever) who played this song in his or her room, and it might have been greater than Michael Jackson, Prince, Sgt. Pepper and Dark Side Of The Moon combined...sort of a bear in the woods type of question, really.

Of the millions of songs ever created, we've heard (at least till the digital age) what some person thought was a sound that people would pay money for...and many of the hits of the past were discovered by luck. Still, there's plenty of music out there, and more so now. Lists may not truly tell us what's great, but at least it makes us listen instead of gawk at album covers or try to figure out if the liner notes or artist bios contain a clue as to how good the music is (hint...of course not, artist bios and liner notes are designed to sell the record, not tell you how good the music really is).

There is such a thing as a good car may not actually be anything more than what a person thinks is a song that sounds good in a car, but it is a genre. It's been a marketing tool in the past, there was an offshoot of surf called "drag strip" or "hot rod" music. Which sounded like surf but instead of the sound of waves crashing there would be the roar of a car engine or something.

In all fairness, I should add that most publications that publish best of lists do make a sincere effort to determine what the greatest songs of this or that era are and most are arguable, even allowing for the occasional inclusion of artists who just happen to be on the labels of the biggest advertisers.

Since I accept no advertising, and have received no offers of money or merchandise that would make me change that policy, what follows is part one of an unbiased list of the ten greatest blues car songs of all time, subject to change in mood or burnout due to overplaying, or if I drive a different model of car than my Caddy.

The key element is not the lyrics (in my opinion), and any song that complained about the rigors of the road (as if the singer would rather be doing a nine to five job) was immediately disqualified. The criteria is simple; a good car song is one that when it comes on (on the radio or stereo), it makes the motion of the car, and life in general seem like one good feeling, a moment when the mental and physical are one.

10. Bukka White: "Southern Streamline" (Arhoolie Records). This is actually a song Bukka, or as he preferred to be called, Booker, performed over the decades under various titles. The reason I picked the Arhoolie version is not only better sound, but it's the most powerful performance. White's boogie sound was a catchy combination of bass string work that sounded like he was strumming at the same time the slide riff was going, and it was as attuned to the rhythm of a cruising car as any Delta Blues ever written. It's basically the tale of a train ride, and a masterful description of the people and things he saw at the stations, all with a bemused and interested eye. This song was as good as it gets with the Delta Blues.

9. Bo Diddley: "Mumbling Guitar" (Chess). Some of the best songs are throwaways, and this was a casual a masterpiece as anything ever written (except for "Green Onions," the king of cool one off jams). This was also as fast as he ever played, but then, we all have to hit the gas and drive fast sometimes, even in a Caddy. Bo opens up with the usual trademark riff, then the drummer kicks in with a ferocious 1-2 stomp beat and basically he just jammed and made cool sounds on guitar. If one listens to the later "rave-up" sound that the Yardbirds made famous in the 60s, you can see where it all came from. The only problem with the cut is that being a studio jam, it wasn't recorded as well as the obvious singles on the album, and most versions I've heard don't do it justice. The version I favor is a taped copy from the 50s vinyl record, which I managed to hang on to, and later digitized. I made a mistake at the time and left the recording levels too high, and it brought out the highs and drums too much, but I've never heard a better mix that captured the wild sound as well, so I've kept it. If you download a digital copy, use Audacity or some other sound editor to amp up the level, and you'll hear a good song become a great one.

I'll continue with the list in future blogs, though it won't be done in a linear fashion. Whatever pops up next the next time I drive to work.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Blues From A Cadillic: Thoughts About "Madame George"

I do a lot of music listening in my Caddy, which is like being in a sofa that happens to have wheels. There's music that sounds best in one, blues being the most obvious, but songs of a contemplative nature also sound good. I like to spend the 40 minutes or so driving to work drinking coffee, listening to my iPod (via car stereo), and generally just waking up. If you happen to see a '90 tan Cadillac DeVille floating along some South SF Bay road towards Palo Alto, you might be wise to give it a wide berth until I'm at least halfway through my coffee. I find the relative bliss of awakening useful in ignoring the usual commuter road ragers also, which is a sort of yin-yang thing if you really think about it.

I like to just channel surf songs until one hits, which is why the 700 or so songs are eclectic. Plus, for all you budding song writers out there, surfing 30 seconds of each song till one catches your ear will give you an invaluable glimpse into the superficial world of A&R. I remember reading articles about A&R people who listen to demo tapes, and the main thing is that they often just listen to the opening of each song and often will begin to lose interest by the third cut. That wisdom cost me nothing, so I pass it along for you all for whatever use you can make of it.

The first song that stuck was the live version of "Madame George," from the relatively recent Van Morrison CD that featured the classic "Astral Weeks" in it's entirety. I have to admit, listening to lyrics tends to be a secondary priority with me, I'm more interested in voice as sound (as Van is, from what I've read), but this morning the words really came through. Part of it might be the mix, the live version is much "brighter" in sound, but Morrison's voice tends to penetrate the consciousness like a good Coltrane cut too.

I'd always seen this classic interpreted as a glimpse of the life of a female impersonator, which it is of course, but what struck me was that Van's narration wasn't sympathetic, but was dispassionate yet focused on small incidents that showed Madame George's humanity and frailty and the overall mood was kindness.

Not the kind where you pat the person on the back or give them money, but where you view the person as-is, their foibles noted without judgement, and purely on what happened. That's a type of tolerance we don't see much anymore. This country has become very partisan, and every fault can become a reason to lose a job or position, and every mistake a stain on your character. Labels have become charged, and we often preach diversity, but find it OK to use the most insulting terms for someone we disagree with, often on a single issue. A woman can be independent and outspoken, but if a Republican, can be disparaged in a way that would normally cause a bar fight in many parts of the country.

Which is what's so beautiful about music, it really never ages like a movie can. It's meaning can change over time, depending on how your point of view shifts with life, and in this case, it made my morning just that much more peaceful hearing a story about some human being that when you think about it, isn't any different than the rest of us. Madame George was the perfect soundtrack to my commute this morning.