Saturday, October 22, 2011

Be Loud, Let the Others Know...First a Whisper, Then It Grows

I've never heard my dad sing.

I'm not exactly sure why.  I've never met anyone with as much knowledge about music in my life than my dad, and I've rarely met anyone that loves music quite as much as he does.  It's quite amazing actually.  A few years ago, VH1 used to have a show called Rock n' Roll Jeopardy and I remember sitting in awe as my dad would answer almost every single question correctly, often without hesitation.  My sister and I often tried to convince him to try out for the show, because we were convinced he'd be able to win.  But, he's not exactly the type to show off his talents.  He just liked to test himself.

I get my love of music from him.  I remember as a kid riding in the truck with him, he'd have 99.1 WCBL on virtually all the time, and like clockwork would offer tidbits of information.

"Their drummer left the band after their second album and went on to start (insert band name here).  They never had any big hits though.  This is probably what he's best known for, but the later stuff was way better," he'd say.  Or something like that.  It's that knowledge that blows me away.  He doesn't just know song titles or band names (God knows he knows plenty of those).  But he can tell you life stories of band members from musical groups that have long been forgotten.  It's remarkable.

"Wow.  I didn't know that," I'd say in all sincerity.  I remember wishing he'd change the station and let me listen to some "new" music, but as I look back on it today, I cherish those memories.

I've come home many times to find dad sitting in his recliner with all the lights off, and a Stevie Ray Vaughan live album or some other old vinyl spinning on his turntable blaring through the speakers.

"Sit down and listen to this.  This drum solo is unreal," he'd say, motioning me to sit down.  "Man, he was tough."  He always used the adjective "tough" to describe a musician's playing skills.

He still protects his old vinyl collection like it's solid gold bars.  Technology has allowed him to convert every album he has into MP3 format and put them on CD's.  Mom bought him a vinyl converter a few years ago for Christmas, and he has spent countless hours backing up his collection on their home computer.

And, yet, despite my dad's love for music, I've never once heard him sing.  He claims he doesn't really care about lyrics in songs; he prefers listening to the "music."  My mom used to always ask him why he didn't sing at church, and he'd always say he sang along in his head.  Maybe he did the same thing when he was listening to music at home or in his truck.

Although my dad definitely passed on a love for music to my sister and I, I find enjoyment in music for different reasons and in different ways.  I do appreciate musicians for their abilities to play instruments, but it takes more than that for me to like a particular band or song.  For example, I've never been a fan of Dave Matthews.  Despite his insane popularity, I've never found his music to be enjoyable, with the exception of a handful of tunes.  That being said, I recognize that he and his band are some of the best individual musicians in the world, and can appreciate their music for that reason.  But, I'm not going to go out of my way to listen.

For me, I find more enjoyment in listening to the lyrics of songs; using those lyrics to search for the meaning the artist intended, or, in most cases, creating my own meaning that is personal to me.  In some cases, if I find out what an artist was intending to say in a particular song, it will never have that impact on me.  Obviously, some of the music I listen to is for entertainment's sake only, because not every song that I like has an in depth meaning.  I mean, come on...I like AC/DC.  But, with a lot of my favorite music, it's the lyrics that pull me in.

A week from today, Adrienne, her sister Liza, and I will be going to Nashville to see the Avett Brothers perform live.  We saw them last year (ironically on Halloween weekend also) at the Ryman Auditorium, and although this time around it will be in the much less intimate Bridgestone Arena, I'm still extremely excited.  I can't wait, actually.

But, this time last year, I was preparing to go see them live and had never even heard of them.  And the little exposure I had leading up to the concert (listening to the music in Adrienne's car), had left me with a lot to desire.  I didn't think they were very good, to be honest.  But, as is often the case, after seeing them live, that changed.  I instantly became a huge fan.

If you've never heard of the Avett Brothers, I wouldn't be totally surprised.  They're not a huge national act, although their popularity has increased in the last year or so.  But, you need to do yourself a favor and give them a listen, because in today's watered-down world of music, they are truly a breath of fresh air.

Upon first glance, you'll immediately notice how different they are from anything else out there today.  The two most difficult things to do in the music industry today are to be very good or to be unique.  And it's even more difficult and rare to find an artist that achieves both simultaneously.  But the Avett Brothers do.  They're unique, and very, very good.

Trying to describe their style is a bit difficult.  They're like country, rock, folk, blues, bluegrass, and gospel all rolled into one.  One unique aspect is that Scott Avett, the older of the two brothers, plays banjo but instead of picking it, he mostly strums it.  It provides a totally different, gritty, biting sound that you don't normally hear, especially in popular music.

While I'm typically a guy that enjoys up-tempo, fun music, the Avetts don't have a ton of it.  Their music is not filled with catchy hooks or face-melting solos (although there are some sprinkled in from time to time), but you will find yourself humming the melodies in your mind for hours after listening.  Compared to the rest of my musical collection, they are outcasts when it comes to style.  But there's something that draws you to it, hypnotizes you.

As for what it is...I'm not exactly sure.  As singers, they're not exactly Luciano Pavarotti, but the unique harmony that can only be achieved by family members is apparent from the very first listen.  The music itself can sometimes feel as though scales and logic are being totally ignored, and yet the mood that it creates (whether it's an uptempo romp, or soft, slow melody) is always calming.  It's difficult to explain.

But, for me, what made me a fan is their impeccable skill as lyricists.  Every line is delivered with a sincerity that is rare in music.  Every song is straightforward, so the meaning is visible, yet vague at the same time so the listener can develop their own meaning.  The topics of their songs are nothing unique...They talk about life, love, fun for fun's sake...The same topics that virtually every artist writes about.  Yet, they do it in the most unique and clever way.  They are able to express things in a way that leaves you thinking, "Damn, that makes SO much sense...But I'd have never thought to put it that way."

A couple of my favorite lyrical excerpts:

"I wanna have pride like my mother has, but not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad" -From "The Perfect Space."

"If I live the life I'm given, I won't be afraid to die." -From "New Year's Eve Song."

"There is nothing worth sharing like the love that let's us share our name," -From "Murder in the City."

These don't even begin to scratch the surface.  There's at least one lyrical gem in every single one of the their songs...I can't pick a favorite.  These just happened to come to mind.  They have an uncanny ability to affect your emotions in so many different ways.  One minute you may be on the verge of tears, the next you may be losing your mind laughing.  You'll then find yourself sitting in total silence, trying to wrap your head around the message, and suddenly finding yourself singing at the top of your lungs for no other reason than it's just so damn fun.  That's the ride that is the Avett Brothers.

If you haven't taken the time to listen to them, you are doing yourself a disservice.  Go to Youtube and look them up.  Go see them live.  Preview a couple of songs on iTunes.  Just give them a shot.  If you're not a fan after that...I'm not sure what else to say.

I'll leave you with a little video.  This was recorded last year at the show we saw at the Ryman.  Enjoy...And yes, they're dressed as mummies.

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