Posts Tagged ‘#vocalist’

MSK Yellowstone

MSK Yellowstone

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Photo by MSK Yosemite

Burning Impressions That Last Forever                                 

“Single Desire” was written in a time when I must have had a lot to say.  The year was 1988. Once love has grabbed you it can burn deep.  No matter how you want things to turn out, sometimes you have no control on the direction they take.  You find yourself helpless at the time and unable to avoid mistakes that seem obvious even to you.  Single Desire tries to describe the condition when adoration is not reciprocal.  When you are not loved in return.  Only one thing matters and nothing you can do will make it happen.

When the other person learns that type of control is in their hands, they have power that can turn lovers insane.  He/She can make the helpless romantic into a tool that can be discarded when no longer useful.  There is no cost to them.  Displays of charm and hints of affection can destroy all resistance and common sense in the admirer.

We need to wait until the fire burns out completely before we can stop following and finally walk away.  The problem is there is usually very little left to walk away with.

I tried to give this song a full arrangement as powerful as the lyrics (or the idea behind them) felt to me.  I knew I could not sing it the way it required so I called my  good friend and band-mate Gary Jefferson as I have many times over the years to do the vocal tracks.  My wife Ellen does the chorus ‘response’ vocal parts.  I used my keyboards and MIDI tone generators to do all the instrumental tracks including the drums, strings, brass and bass guitar parts, and invited my buddy Shawn Anderson to come over and lay down the lead guitar tracks. Harlen Lee, another great friend of mine, came in and added additional guitar parts.  I really like the bass guitar line, and think the strings add movement and dramatic accents to the song.

Please give “Single Desire” a few plays to let it sink in and I hope you enjoy.

I’ve admitted in earlier posts that I observe people a lot, and that I get a number of ideas for songs from watching other people;  friends, family, co-workers, I steal from them all!  I can empathize with people as they face challenges and triumphs in life.  I try to understand what it feels like to be in those situations even though I myself might not be directly affected by them.

I also have some rather obvious political points of view.  I can understand why there are those that do not always agree with my positions but in many cases I can still understand theirs.  In this song I basically insult every group I can think of!  As you are more than likely in at least one of these groups I apologize in advance.  In a lot of ways, this song summarizes the items on my Love – Hate list.  I hate things that should work but do not, and I really hate personal and corporate greed.  The song uses a lot of references to things we would hear on the news, although it was written a long time ago.  Unfortunately most of the issues are the same today!

Recording this song took a LONG time.  We did rough mixes here and there changing this or that, but it did not feel right from beginning to end.  Eventually, I think we rearranged some of the chorus/verse structure and it just fell into place.  For some songs this is the agonizing part;  all the components are there and sound good, but the piece as a whole just does not grab you.  I might have even tried changing tempo on this one to get it right.

If this is not the first song I did using my new Alesis ADAT recorder it was one of the first.  I was also transitioning from the Atari computer to a Windows machine, so not everything went smoothly!  I played electric guitar on this one (I have a few guitars and do not know which one was used for each song but my guess this is either my Ibanez or a Yamaha 6 string) and did all the sequencing and drum tracks as described earlier.  My wife does the vocal main lines.  Using the limiter/compressor chain I described from other songs the vocals are recorded so they stay soft and spooky and a little eerie as the lyrics become more and more cynical.  A bunch of family and friends came in and did the voice add-ons.  You can hear both our daughters, my co-writing brother and a few neighbors help out with the spoken parts.  I ‘sing’ the chorus.

The bass line in this one is particularly cool because it is my Oberheim Matrix 6 synth and it has this patch or sound that continues to play an arpeggio (sequence of predetermined notes) as long as you hold a key down.  So the bass lines are done by holding one note for a while but hearing many notes played.  We even got to play with one of the audio samplers from the music store and used it to trigger the ‘broken word’ parts.   Once we got the arrangement right it was just fun to ‘decorate’ the basic tracks and add a little movement to the mix.   Have fun with this one.

As we moved the song “My Heart is Silent” forward, I wanted to give you an update in the process.  New chord structure keeping some of the vibe from the first version and new vocals and you can see how quickly songs can change from the original concept.  The last version had a female vocalist and this time we hear from a friend of Mack.  His name is Carlos and he has a smooth ballad vocal style. Again, this is the first vocal attempt to give us an idea how the song feels with a male vocalist and more of a structured feel to the verses. 

 We decided to go with a spoken intro for the first verse.  I like the way it opens the song and allows us to build the vocals as the song progresses.  Oddly enough, a lot of the lyrics went back to the original as the song structure fit the words a bit easier.  We also considered doing a male-female duet.  No final decision yet and we are still thinking about back-up vocals to enhance some of the lines from each verse to drive the end of the song as it builds up.   

 I added MIDI string parts after the piano intro.  The drum parts and bass guitar are also all MIDI generated coming from the computer.  I added a low-key rhythm guitar part during the chorus and later verses.  Once we have the vocal parts finalized we may add other instruments as the song progresses toward the end.   

 So what do you think?  Male vocalist, female or duet?   

 What other instruments do you ‘hear’ in the final version?  Saxophone?   Brass? Orchestral?  Lead guitar? 

 Do you like the spoken opening verse rather than jumping straight into the melody? 

 Here is the latest rough mix of “My Heart Is Silent”. 

A Song in the Making Part III

A Song in the Making Part II

A Song in the Making

While performing with my last cover band, Crash Landing, we played local clubs, festivals and private parties.  In this picture of a live set up, you will see a fairly standard rock/blues/country/alternative/jazz band stage arrangement;  drums center rear, Lead Vocalist center front.  Keys (and/or rhythm guitar) on the left as you look at the stage and the lead guitar player on the right.  In smaller clubs the keyboards get crunched back in the corner next to the drummer……  no sour grapes here!  Bass player close to the drummer. (either side doesn’t really matter)  In reality, most bands will not practice in this configuration, but this is the way most of us play out live and we are quite used to it.  In our case, Crash Landing has a number of vocalists.  All but the drummer sings in this band.  The bass player takes front stage position and sings a number of lead vocals.  So does the guitar player.  You can see where the microphone stands are placed for the vocalists.  Close up pictures later in this series will show other microphone positions for the instruments.  These are good places to start.  If you have limited time or setting up for a number of bands in an evening, you go with the standard format and shape the sound from the board as much as possible.  Knowing or having experience doing the quick set-up successfully a few times you will see the standard configuration and mic placements work well for the vast majority of performances.

We can also see the positioning of the vocal stage monitors across the front of the stage.  There are various thoughts on how to set these up but the differences can seem minor.  For this many vocalists across the front, this spacing and direction worked fairly well.  The drummer and/or other non-vocalists might also need monitors.  (it would not be unusual for the keyboard player requiring a monitor to hear the keyboards and a vocal mix if they sing)  This stage size gives players room to breath AND hear.  When inside on a smaller stage, everything seems to collide and jumble.  Outside you can hear yourself play much better (depending on the sound engineer, of course) and at times you might actually struggle just a little to hear the other players!  Take two steps closer to them and they are plenty loud.  This should be an easier situation for a sound engineer.  If I had to do a first gig in my life as a practice run, I would want to do an outdoors gig.

Crash Landing

Thinking about a recent post where we shared our first concert experiences, I was reminded about my first concert to see The Grateful Dead. I was fairly young and the environment was overwhelming and exciting.

We used to play one of their songs called “Mr. Charlie”. The Grateful Dead are off beat by nature and this is one of their songs most people have not heard.  I recorded this cover song a couple years ago and decided to pull it out of the ‘deep-freeze’ and post it for the fun of it.

When I was in cover bands, we were pretty much forced to play main stream or currently airing songs.  I would suggest the unknown songs often but understood when we played only a few.  This one never got the approval either, but the core group used to warm up on this one and I just like the flavor of the song.

Credits to The Grateful Dead.  This is my Ovation 12 String guitar and I do a little harmony.  Hope you have a little fun with this as well.

Years ago when I was still learning to play guitar; I know, we are always learning! In this piece, my great friend and musical soul mate Tom Robinson is playing guitar and singing. I play around with the harmony, not knowing exactly where this song is going as we play off each other’s ideas as the song ends. This is another very basic living room recording but I simply love the song and the textures we created around the basic outline of the song. I hope you enjoy it as well. There are a number of inside jokes and references people might not totally understand, but I don’t think that will interfere too much.When I contacted them recently for correct song credits the answers were definite with options available for future adjustments. Tom Gorman and Tom Robinson [for all intents and purposes…] wrote the lyrics. Music by Tom Robinson. For a little more history I will include a portion of the conversation for historic kicks and giggles.

(Co-authors) Tom Gorman to Tom Robinson:

It was I July or Aug of 77 at your apartment. ….. Your stereo wasn’t working, and you were tinkering with it. You began to make progress and said “We got the capability . . .” For whatever reason, that inspired me, and I wrote most of the words to the song, including most of the refrain. ….. You came up with the lines about (mutual friends). I had written “We’ve got to feed our habits now” but couldn’t think of anything else. You changed “habits” to “rabbits” and added the line about rounding up the steer. At a later point, you put it to music and added “Thinkin’ about our doodely doom” and “weekend in the womb.” You also gave it the title “The Round-up.” The illegal beer was the Millers that (we) managed to score on a Sunday when it was illegal to sell it on Sunday.

“Rainy Day”            

Cruisin’ down the avenue

Raining in the lightning.

Listening to the radio

Cruisin’ in the darkness.

           Peddle down, let’s burn this town

           Fire from my tires.

           Reflections in my rear view mirror,

           I will find tomorrow.

Comin’ down the avenue

Raining and the lightning.

Reflections in my rear view mirror

I will find tomorrow.

Go for ride real late at night

Rain comin’ down like it usually does.

So I turn the radio to the right

Playin’ the same songs as the other night.

So I slammed the door and I left for good

Now you find me driving in your neighborhood.

Don’t explain it to me, it’s well understood

Everything you do for me is for my own good.

           Turn ‘round the corner I’m still losing my mind

           So I punched it down and left it all behind.

           Tryin’ not to cry I push it all back

           Racing fast to nowhere on a one way track.

           No colors at all, just the burning headlights

           And the crackling of lightning tearing into the night.

           People ask me what I do at night

           I tell them only one thing makes me feel all right.

           It makes me feel all right.

Lyrics by Michael & Ellen Kennedy

Music by Michael Kennedy

(c) 1986

Thank you, thank you, thank you! For the next few days I’ll be offering all of my blog friends a free download of my song Miracles In Your Hand off of my upcoming EP, “Before The Chase.” I have been struggling to find a proper way to thank you all for your support and encouragement over the past year. I was very close to throwing in the towel, but I started this blog and thanks to all of you and your kind words, I’ve been motivated to keep pushing forward.  As I watch this year’s calendar fill with major events and milestones, there are usually small celebrations here and there.  At each one I am not only surprised at the positive response and friendships created, but also by the amazing amount of talent and creativity this community produces.  Please stop by and add this original song (Click here – Miracles in Your Hand) to your personal libraries as part of my continued appreciation for all you have done to support and spread my works.

After a break-up some of these lyrics just poured out.  Seeing the same thing and coming to opposite conclusions.  Having an early exposure to poetry first, I try to keep those ideas reflected in many of the songs I write.  The chorus was an idea I had been playing with lyrically for a while and it seemed to immediately fit with the loss described in the verses.  What would you do if you held a miracle in YOUR hand?  What if that couldn’t save you?

“Miracles In Your Hand”  (c)  MSK

A reason is such a small thing,

Can’t you give me one?

Seems to me you were holding out,

Were you really just holding on?

The things we did won’t mean a thing,

The memories drift away.

The things you said hang in the air,

Like a light that will not fade.

CH:  You’re alive one day with miracles in your hand,

Then you’re heading for a wall, drivin’ fast as you can.

I settled down uneasy, I’m just waiting for tomorrow to come.

When the answers seem so distant,

Questions lose their fun.

You thought that I was shutting up,

I was really just shutting down.

It’s time we found the meaning,

In the games we have made.

And a reason makes the difference,

When the last trick must be played.

CH:   You’re alive one day with miracles in your hand,

Then you’re heading for a wall, drivin’ fast as you can.

I settled down uneasy, I’m just waiting for tomorrow to come.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated so far in my “Who Do You Love” post.  There were some very interesting lessons as I collected and listened to the recommended songs  that have influenced us over the years.  I say us intentionally.  You are the best group of people I have never worked with!!  LOL.  I mean that in a kind way.  It is easier for some people to develop good relationships with some one they work with or “serve” with.  The bonds can last a life time.  We do not have that work platform, but the friendships made here are also very strong.

I was equally surprised by two things:  1) I knew a lot of these songs and bands and 2) I didn’t     know a lot of these bands and songs!!  It took me a long time to go through them all.  But there are some gems in here.  Many are the best of their category – NOT necessarily the most popular or the one with the most airplay.  I encourage you to look deeper into comments as I will not list them all here again, but I want to point out a number of them that caught my ear.   A lot of your suggestions were passionate and you can tell there is a lot of history and emotional connections in the lists. Here are just a few – but again not a complete list of the gems you suggested. Please continue to post your musical influences.  I have thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from your suggestions.  I hope others get a kick out of these too!  IN NO ORDER WHATSOEVER

Active Child – what a range the vocalist has.  Unusual set of musical toys, and lyrical   themes and vocal textures blend into a unique soundscape.  They create a house and invite you in.  Well worth the visit.

Switchfoot –  “Hello Hurricane”, This is a clean sounding song. Well recorded and mixed. Driving beats and vocal power that can be smooth and open.  Good blends in harmonies.  Good energy and I like the ay the song builds at a slow pace.

Jon Foreman – The Wonderlands.   Here is another great blending artist.  Nice harmonies and the background music surprises with different arrangements and instrumentation.  Very good dynamics.  Addictive style that is pleasant and easy to relate to.

Bat for Lashes – Laura is a great example of this artist’s prowess.  She quickly sets up the mood and the tone and then lays the lyrics on you with vocals that seem to have more control than humanly possible and enough emotion to cause global warming.

For raw power with a message it is hard to beat La Dispute.  Combining a number of styles into a passionate assortment of lyric driven songs.  A speaking style not trying to be rap that works very well for this group.  Great driving music for a long trip.

I have to mention this because it was cool from an historical point:

https://ahigherrevelation.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/triple-js-20-years-of-hottest-100-countdown-what-did-i-vote-for/

I was really fascinated to check out Barclay James Harvest.  These guys are right up my ancient alley and I have never heard of them.  I know this might not be the most popular suggestion the community has suggested, but they cover all the progressive territory of other bands I am familiar with.  Some of the video clips from around 1979 are out there and worth an evening or two.

I had heard Ed Sheeran before, but wasn’t that familiar with his works.  Nice variety, works on a good image – that is a good guy image and it comes of very well for him. He tries to add variety and the songs are great.  It was definitely worth my time digging more into his songs and videos.  Great voice.  Solid music and production.

Kate Nash – Nicest Thing.  I can see why this is a favorite.  The style is intentionally out there and it has the sneaky ability to pull you in instead.  When you can make comfortable and eerie blend perfectly you have a great emotional landscape play in.   She calls this her territory and of course the lyrics pull you right into the main theme. Good call.

City & Color – As Much As I Ever Could is another great example of a band that has it all. The vocals are outstanding and his control is impressive.  Lyrics are fine and fit the ballad style of this song.  Band dynamics are worked out by what seems to be magic. Harmonies kick in and punch it for added tension and for me the keyboards are a great touch.

Dave Koz’s tunes are cool jams and the performers are all top notch.  You don’t have to be a genius to get into their grooves as well.  Slick mix production.  If it is time to sit back and enjoy, take in a few of these live performances and watch the players do some cool stuff.

Ian Carr’s Nucleus – Roots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-Cu5TJm0GI This is a great progressive jazz.  Maybe an acquired taste for some but worth checking out for the chops and creative jamming.
Frankie Beverly’s Raw Soul – I Need You: https://youtu.be/U7uJ_zddoSs This is another great jam band with solid grooves and guys that know their axe.  Percussion to die for and the organ player is pretty top notch.  Great live musical fun.

The Hep Stars got by me completely somehow.  You can hear a lot of influences that were dominant at the time.  Good vocal blend and the recordings are actually pretty good. They captured the times and the look and ran with it.  For a blast from the past this is a good history lesson.

 The Raconteurs are a great groove band with a heavy guitar sound.  The vocals and the harmonies are well worth the price of admission. For a lively rocking jam, this is a great place to start soaking up some new tunes.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vu9hj_kMm48

This video stands on its own, but the vocals have to be heard to be believed from The Temper Trap.  Great name too.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMuuc_pqx2s is a great song with a vision.

 Lana Del Rey is one of those artists you have to sample more than one song to get a feel of the true talent.  Maybe listening a few times would help, but once you cross over she has a powerful musical presence.  Try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_1aF54DO60 for the unfamiliar.

Manic Street Preachers have a great Brit rock/POP sound. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nusymqINrSc is a fun video to start with.  Good clean style, great vocals and they are not afraid of dynamics.  They also love a song with a theme or message, so good for a fun musical cruise.

Acoustic Alchemy are worth noting for a band that has chops and a smooth modern jazz style.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVtQHpwv9sE is a good example of their live performances.  Fun jams and precision licks from a talented group and for a nice addition try a “Shelter Island Drive”.

Notables: 

Ashestoangels

Sufjan Stevens https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asCLMdrWuA0 for eye candy.

From The National, try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-Tod1_tZdU to set the tone for the evening.  A vocal and visual treat.

Amaia Montero – Quiero Ser and I have no idea what she is singing, but I can understand why it was recommended’

Thank you again.  I really enjoyed this project and thank all that participated and to all the thought put into it, even if you did not post your list!

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You may think this funny, but my first real concert was a Grateful Dead concert.  I was seventeen or eighteen at the time.  I had seen bands perform at parks or other small events, but this was my first concert.  The thing I remember most to this day were the huge balloons that the audience and band members would smack back and forth the entire evening.  I was not that familiar with their music but I had heard references (“It’s not for lack of bread, like the Grateful Dead; dying”, from the musical play Hair, which I also saw!) but had not really heard much of their music before.

The second thing that I noticed was how communal the audience was.  It is unlike other concerts.  Everyone was friendly and happy to be there.  It was a different group of people.  They enjoyed the music, enjoyed the event and everyone got along.  I wish more of the concerts I have seen had audiences that resembled The Grateful Dead fans.

What was your first concert? What do you remember about it?