Friday, June 29, 2007

Ray Charles - Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music

I figure that it's about time for me to write about my (near) namesake, Ray Charles's 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Much of what is written about this album sees it as the initial work in the country-soul connection that would become more obvious a decade later with the rise in both genres of the Muscle Shoals sound. But unlike later country-soul, as exemplified by Mavis Staples and Solomon Burke, both of whom truly fused the sounds of the country and soul genres (or explored overlaps, perhaps), this album largely ignores the sounds of country, instead transforming songs originally recorded in a country or western style into soul and light jazz.

None of this is meant, however, as criticism of Charles or this album. Rather, I feel that this album points out another important similarity between country and soul: their common relationship to the song. In 1962 rock and roll was on the verge of permanently intertwining the songwriter and the performer, the song and the performance. In rock music, the writing of a song and the interpretation of that song in recording are fused into one action; the song is what's on the record and what's on the record is the song.

Imagine rock hits reinterpreted similarly to this album. It's been done of course; Pat Boone's recording of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" was heard by many as the theme to The Osbournes, but can only really be regarded as kitsch or a novelty song. The lounge interpretation can perhaps even be seen as violating or betraying the song.

The songs on this album are open to radical reinterpretation, however, because they were written with just that in mind. These songs, by and large, weren't written with a performer, genre, or performance style in mind. They were largely written with total disregard to the manner in which any performer would interpret them.

Soul and country share the same attitude toward the song and toward the value of the performer as interpreter separate from the songwriter. Placing value on interpretation seems radical to those of us thoroughly steeped in the singer/songwriter ideology of rock and roll, but listening to this album shows that its absolutely appropriate to assign authorship for genius interpretation.

Ray Charles - Hey, Good Lookin'

From Amazon

Monday, June 25, 2007

American Gun - Dark Southern Hearts

American Gun is a Columbia, SC-based rock group that wears their love of country music on their sleeve. Ranging from straight-ahead rock and roll (circa early-1970s Stones) to more laid-back roots rock with prominent steel guitar and piano, their debut album Dark Southern Hearts shows a wide range of musical interests while retaining a strong focus on the rock that is at the heart of their style. Unlike some rockers drawing from country sounds, American Gun plays a perfect middle ground in their use of sounds normally associated with country music. They aren't cute or clever with their country allusions, but neither are they reverent. Rather, their calls to country music serve simply to flesh out their rock and roll sound without transforming it into something new. Listen to how the fiddle and banjo in "Drowning Ship," instead of turning the song into a country song, serve the needs of the song as a rock song.

American Gun - Drowning Ship

From American Gun
From emusic

Now on MySpace!

I finally got around to setting up a MySpace profile for Postmodern Sounds.
Visit it at
Hopefully it's easier to use day to day than it was to set up.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Yarn - Yarn

A couple months ago while vacationing in New York City, I just happened to get an email promoting New York alt-country band Yarn's debut album the morning of their CD release show as the Lakeside Lounge, which I had been thinking about attending. I ended up not being able to make the show, even though it was a scant block and a half from where I was staying, but I was fortunate enough to have a CD waiting in my mailbox when I made it back to Kansas.

Led by local roots-rocker Blake Christiana, of Blake and the Family Dog, Yarn takes a primarily acoustic approach to the Brooklyn Americana sound, focused on songwriting and underlaid with sharp guitar and mandolin work and occasional steel, Dobro, and fiddle/violin.

Yarn - Madeline

From CD Baby