Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fifteen years! (And, no, rock isn't dead).

Where does the time go? It has now been 15 years since the day I "went live" with my website, Rarebird's Rock and Roll Rarity Reviews, on May 31st of 1999. The internet and the music world have both changed a great deal since then, but I've tried to keep my website about out-of-print rock and roll albums as simple as it was in the beginning.

I never thought I'd say this, but I actually think that my website has grown too large in size. The original idea was for the site to consist of about 10 different artist pages. But ideas just kept coming to me, and so the site came to have over 35 artist pages. Starting in 2003, I began using a different approach by creating pages that spotlighted one album instead of multiple albums by one artist. Again, the idea was to create about ten of those pages -- but now, there are more than twenty. I suppose that having too much inspiration is a good problem for a webmaster to have. However, I don't plan to add many more pages to the site, simply because a website with too many pages and links can be overwhelming to the visitor.

Fortunately, the internet has evolved in such a way that there are other means to add new content. At the end of 2004, I began to use this blog as an addition to the website, and so far, I've felt free to add as many new posts as I wish. And so, I will continue to convey information and opinions about out-of-print recordings in more free-form fashion here in the Nest. (Speaking of which, it's even harder to believe that this blog is nearing its tenth anniversary). And, if I can make my point in 140 characters or less, there's always Twitter.

Of course, the music industry has also evolved beyond belief in the last 15 years. And that raises this question about my website and blog: What exactly qualifies as a rock-and-roll rarity these days? If an album is no longer being manufactured in a physical medium, but is available as a legal mp3 download, or can be listened to on a service such as Spotify, then that album is no longer considered a rarity, since it is readily available through proper legal commercial distribution. But if a commercially unavailable album has been uploaded to YouTube unofficially, then it still qualifies as a rarity, because such a YouTube video is the digital equivalent of a bootleg recording. And besides, YouTube videos can be removed at any time without notice, especially if the copyright holders complain about terms violations. An album that we can listen to on YouTube today may not be on YouTube next week.

And on another note about the music industry's evolution, we shall once again ponder the eternal question: is rock and roll dead? That question has been much asked for as long as my website has existed, and my answer is: No. Absolutely not.

Of course, rock and roll is hardly a new and revolutionary thing anymore, and it probably will never feel like one again. After all, rock and roll will officially turn 60 next year. It is no longer a dominant tool of rebellion for young people who don't trust anyone over the age of 30, because most people who are currently over 30 have grown up with rock and roll, and younger people have found newer ways to be different from their parents. For this reason, the media does not typically use rock music or culture in their attempts to appeal to younger demographics, so it will probably never again have the same cultural impact that it once did.

But if rock and roll were truly "dead" (for the last fifteen years, at that), then we would not hear it nearly as much as we still do. Some people predict that rock will soon become a niche market, like jazz, but that hasn't happened yet. As this blog post is being written, Coldplay's new album Ghost Stories is #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, the position it debuted in; and the previous week, the new Black Keys album Turn Blue also debuted in the #1 spot, beating out a posthumous album from the King of Pop. Does it sound to you like the genre is "dead"? Whenever I hear music playing in a public place (retail stores, bars, gyms, you name it), I almost always hear rock music being played, and sometimes it's even the dominant genre. Most people I know between the ages of 30 and 60 still listen to rock music at least some of the time, either old or new. The problem with that is that this age group "doesn't buy many records" -- but who does anymore?

And that brings me to my next subject: Record Store Day. This past April 19th, I drove many miles to visit an indie record store, because not many of those stores are in my area anymore, but it was well worth the trip. The spirit of rock and roll was very much alive at that time and place. It felt just like the old days, when I used to scour the bins of such stores in search of unique rarities. On Record Store Day, I found myself competing with other customers to score limited edition vinyl items released solely for that day. And the majority of them appeared to be buying rock music-related items. Many of them looked like young hipster types, much like the types I used to see in the old indie music shops. Well, how about that? In 2014, young hipsters are buying rock and roll records. And I do mean, literally, records. Vinyl! In the words of the renowned 1980's philosopher Huey Lewis, the heart of rock and roll is still beating, though the old boy may be barely breathing.

Recently, the January issue of Classic Rock magazine featured a 25-page report on the subject of "Rock In Crisis", largely arguing that rock and roll is in trouble. In one article titled "Is Rock Dying?", Scott Rowley examined rock's current situation in depth, and it's a great read. I recommend reading the whole thing, but for now, I want to close my 15th anniversary blog post with some key text from that article that gets right to the heart of the matter:

Well, you could argue that (consumers have) never had it so good. That now is the best time ever to be a rock fan - 60 years of rock'n'roll, blues and rock to delve into. Almost every record worth having reissued and easily available. Web sellers like eBay and Amazon connecting us with previously hard-to-find rarities. And great new music everywhere. Free downloads, Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud and sites like Noisetrade and Bandcamp - mean that you can try before you buy (if you ever buy)...We're moving from mass culture to a more individualistic 'configurable' culture. Rock fans have switched from being passive consumers of trends dictated by a mass media, to people able to configure their consumption in a way that pleases them, via playlists and hand-tailored preferences. It is the logical next step - we got what we wished for! The vinyl album dictated that we listen to certain songs by a single artist in a certain order. And once you got bored of that, the cassette allowed you to liberate the best bits from all the different albums and jumble them up in a way that (you hoped) impressed girls. The CD meant you could easily skip Maxwell's Silver Hammer or Hats Off To (Roy) Harper.

The digital world is just the next step...Think of practically any song you ever wanted and you can hear it almost instantly thanks to YouTube. You are connected directly to the stuff you love - whether it's prog-metal, stoner rock or surf punk - and completely able to ignore the stuff you don't like. (I genuinely have no idea what One Direction sound like.) Like, uh, where's the catch?

Well, just maybe, the catch is something we learned from comic books: with great power comes great responsibility. If we're in charge, what sort of rock scene will we create? One that's fearless, open-minded, progressive and exciting? Or one that's stale, inward-looking and suspicious? Because rock isn't dying, it's just changing. What it's changing into, no one really knows. The internet isn't done messing with our heads and changing the ways we discover music.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Flying Burrito Brothers "Devils In Disguise"

I recently added a review of the 2012 U.K. release Devils In Disguise to my Flying Burrito Brothers page. According to Amazon.com, the album is about to be released on CD in the U.S. on May 6th, and on limited-edition vinyl on May 19th. It is reportedly an unofficial and unauthorized release.

Devils In Disguise is a live album recorded in Philadelphia in 1971, around the time of the release of the self-titled third album. The lineup consisted of Chris Hillman, Bernie Leadon, Rick Roberts, Al Perkins (replacing “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow on pedal steel) and Michael Clarke. This CD is sourced from a popular bootleg, which in turn was sourced from a July 1971 live radio broadcast on WMMR-FM. (The first track, “Six Days On The Road”, fades in at the middle). This concert finds the post-Kleinow, pre-Country Gazette quintet performing very much in an old-fashioned country mode, mostly in contrast to the relative slickness of the third album. The exceptions are Gene Clark’s “Tried So Hard” and the Roberts-penned “Four Days Of Rain” and “Colorado”, which noticeably possess a Southern California folk-rock vibe indicative of the time period. Otherwise, the band was seemingly continuing in the same “Cosmic American Music” vein as the first two albums recorded with Gram Parsons. Perkins did a fine job playing the pedal steel, and got his own showcase on “Steel Guitar Rag”. The band did a few bluegrass instrumentals (“Shenandoah Valley Breakdown”, “Dixie Breakdown”), foreshadowing the Country Gazette-aided sounds of Last Of The Red Hot Burritos, which was recorded within months of this concert. Devils In Disguise preserves a decent concert by this little-known FBB lineup.


The Flying Burrito Bros - Devils in Disguise: 1971 Live Broadcast

Flying Burrito Brothers "Devils In Disguise" (Smokin' SMCD911) 2012

Track Listing:

1. Six Days On The Road
2. One Hundred Years From Now
3. My Uncle
4. Four Days Of Rain
5. She Made Me Lose My Blues
6. Shenandoah Valley Breakdown
7. Why Are You Crying
8. Dixie Breakdown
9. Can't You Hear Me Calling
10. White Line Fever
11. Colorado
12. Steel Guitar Rag
13. Christine's Tune
14. Do Right Woman
15. Dark End Of The Street
16. Tried So Hard
17. Hot Burrito #2
18. Wake Up Little Suzie