Turning Point

I’m at an interesting point in my musical life. A turning point. I’m trying to figure out exactly what my musical personality is. Some might say this is a mighty late stage to be figuring that out but it is what it is. I do think I have made my very best records in the past ten years. The best moments are the musical moments when I keep things simple and organic. The bigger productions I have done are not all that bad, and some are very good, but I am most in my element when my emphasis is on just projecting the basic idea in a very real and elemental way.

The two musical autobiographies I am currently reading have brought this dichotomy to the fore in a real way for me. I am reading (simultaneously) “Testimony” by Robbie Robertson and “Anyone Who Had A Heart” by Burt Bacharach. I love the music of each of these guys but you couldn’t have two more different approaches to music.

Robertson is a Canadian who in his youth traveled the “chitlin circuit” in the early 1960’s. The “chitlin circuit” was a collection of venues primarily in the American south that brought true roots music and authentic R and B to listeners who might not otherwise hear it. True Americana and great African American music were on display here.

Robertson first played with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks which later morphed into The Band. As it states in Wikipedia, “The Band’s music fused many elements: primarily old country music and early rock and roll, though the rhythm section often was reminiscent of Stax– or Motown-style rhythm and blues, and Robertson cites Curtis Mayfield and the Staple Singers as major influences, resulting in a synthesis of many musical genres.” This approach appealed to me a lot and I had two albums by The Band in my collection by the time I was 17. I liked it’s “realness.”

Burt Bacharach, on the other hand, is the epitome of a Hollywood songwriter. But his musical sophistication and harmonies were all over the radio in the 1960’s. Bacharach, along with Motown, Jobim and The Beatles supplied the soundtrack of my youth. Everybody knows his songs whether they realize it or not: The Look of Love, Walk On By, Anyone Who Had A Heart, Alfie, What the World Needs Now Is Love, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, This Guy’s In Love, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head…That’s just a few of his classic tunes.

Since I like both of these artists but they produce such different music has been a problem I have had in general. My records display all of these elements to a certain degree. As a general rule, recordings have more success if they have a more homogenous result.  I have ignored that quaint old “rule” but I would probably do it all over again because that was the path of my journey.

However, in the end, the more organic “rootsy” approach feels more comfortable to me. Still, I won’t reject a certain “Bacharachian” harmony or time change even if it happens to occur in one of my tunes.

I guess what I’m saying is that the more “show biz” aspects of the typical performers of Burt’s songs aren’t something I could find myself applying to my own stuff. The exception to this is Elvis Costello who co-wrote a fine album with Burt. Elvis Costello, who is roughly of the same vintage as myself, can walk the line between “real” and “slick” with great distinction.

I will from here on in, try to bend my music more toward the more organic approach but, as I said, I won’t shy away from a hint of a more urbane sophistication either.