musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘guitar’

The Motorcycle Concerts

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Some of the guys from the neighborhood motorcycle taxi stand continue to drop by my apartment once every week or so to listen to music, drink beer, and chat. About two weeks ago, one of the guys, Noy, was bemoaning the fact that his old acoustic guitar was now rendered all but unplayable, having been battered by termites and a cracked neck. If there is something I appreciate, it’s an aspiring musician, so, before he left that night I slipped him some money and told him to use it to buy a new guitar. It wasn’t a huge amount of money, but enough to buy a decent secondhand acoustic guitar. He looked shocked when I handed him the money, but thanked me and told me that he’d bring the guitar by to show me after he purchased it. He had already been eyeing a model for sale in a nearby pawnshop and saving his wages, he said, so the extra money should seal the deal.

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Over a week went by and I didn’t see or hear from him or any of the other drivers that usually come over. I thought that perhaps he had ended up using the money for something else and was perhaps ashamed to show up without a guitar. Hey, I understand, life interrupts and things happen. Then, last Friday night Noy called up and asked if I was free that night. Sure, I told him, come over anytime after nine. When I opened the door, Noy was standing there with guitar in his hand and a big smile on his face, and in his wake was another motorcycle guy, Nat, and he also was carrying an acoustic guitar!

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The two guys sat down and proceeded to launch into a repertoire of pleng puea cheewit (“Music for Life”) standards, mostly songs by Pongsit Kampee. Okay, they’re my friends and I may be biased, but I was pretty impressed by their playing ability. Noy is quite adept at picking out some tricky chords and Nat showed that he could play well too, plus he has a very pleasant singing voice. At one point in the “concert” Noy asked if I could take a video of them with my camera. After I filmed them, I downloaded it onto my computer and Noy in turn posted it on his Facebook page. Ah, this brave new world!

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Playing covers is one thing, of course, but now I’ll be curious to see if Noy and Nat are inspired to start writing their own material. I’ll be eager to hear the next installment in the motorcycle concerts!

 

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Terry Callier

One of the many sad losses in the music world this past year was the passing of Terry Callier on October 28. Callier was a tremendously talented singer, guitarist and songwriter, one who recorded several woefully underappreciated albums in the 1970s, totally disappeared in the 80s, and then made an unexpected comeback in the 90s.

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Part of the reason for Terry Callier’s lack of success was that his sound was not so easy to categorize. He stared out as a folk singer with a heavy blues foundation, but later garnished his songs with jazz, soul, and pop flavorings. While the songs on Callier’s albums covered a variety of styles, what held it all together and elevated each tune to a higher plateau was Callier’s magnificent voice, one that ranged from achingly lonesome to soul-stirring, depending on the mood of the song. Lyrically, Callier’s songs touched on familiar themes of love and loss, but also politics, war, and racial equality. These were not your typical light, fluffy pop tunes. Phrases such as “contemplative”, “romantic” and “sophisticated” have been used to describe Callier’s music. Others have tossed around terms like “quietly soulful” and “classical folk.” See what I mean? It’s damn hard to categorize Terry Callier. Just listen to the songs and savor them.  

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His 1969 debut album for Vanguard, The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier, was a blend of acoustic blues and folk. It was a mellow, understated album, but also quite hypnotic — just Callier singing and playing acoustic guitar, accompanied by a bass player. But it impressed enough listeners that Callier made a bit of a name for himself and was later able to continue his recording career in the 70s, releasing delightful and genre-bending (if not blending) albums like What Color is Love, Fire on Ice, and Occasional Rain. That latter one was perhaps my favorite Terry Callier album, one that included the mesmerizing song “Ordinary Joe.”

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Alas, none of Callier’s albums sold very well, and by 1983 he pretty much retired from the music business and started working as a computer programmer to support his daughter. But in the early-90s he experienced an unlikely resurgence in popularity after club DJ’s in the UK starting spinning his old records again. After a few guest appearances on recordings by Massive Attack and Beth Orton, Callier was inspired to stage a comeback of his own, and in 1998 he released the critically acclaimed Timepeace album. After another album, Lifetime in 1999, he released Speak Your Peace in 2002, an album that included a thrilling duet with Paul Weller on the song “Brother to Brother.”

 Terry Callier has sadly passed away, but most of his albums are still in print, waiting to be discovered by discerning fans of quality music, whether your preference is jazz, pop, or soul.

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Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot has written an astonishing number of great songs during his long recording career. In the grand tradition of storytelling singer-songwriter guitar-playing folk singers, skirting the fringes of country and pop, Gordon Lightfoot is one of the absolute finest. His songs endure.

 

Despite the quality of his songs, and many best-selling albums, Gordon Lightfoot remains a criminally underrated artist, one that has never catapulted to the upper ranks of fame and acclaim. Maybe the humble “Canadian factor” has something to do with it, or the fact that his songs aren’t political or controversial, thus he’s not considered a “serious” artist in the vein of Bob Dylan or Neil Young. But perhaps it’s just because the native of Ontario is such a normal, unassuming musician, as opposed to a “colorful” character who is constantly in the media spotlight, that he’s not considered a superstar.

 

Whatever the case, Lightfoot has penned and sang hundreds of great songs that have also been covered by dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of other artists. Hidden Treasure? Gordon Lightfoot is all that and more. Surely anyone over the age of forty will remember his songs — “If Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” are the most well known. Since his first album, released in 1965, Lightfoot consistently recorded and performed live concerts until the late 1990s. Some ensuing health problems slowed him down and curtailed his concert schedule for several years, but he bounced back with a new album, Harmony, in 2004, and a tour the following year.

 

There are several excellent compilation albums of songs, highlighting both his early work for United Artists, and his later albums for Reprise/Warner Brothers. The first Gordon Lightfoot album I ever owned was a compilation called Gord’s Gold. I’ve owned that treasured collection on various formats over the years; vinyl, CD, cassette, and even 8-Track tape. The one knock some people make against this collection, is that some of the “hits” were re-recorded versions. That aside, the songs still sound great and this collection never gets stale. The Lightfoot purists, however, will argue that his best material is found on The United Artists Collection, a compilation of his early recordings. And it’s hard to find fault with that judgment either; the material on this two-disc set is stellar, including many of his best tunes: Ribbon of Darkness, Early Mornin’ Rain, Steel Rail Blues, Song for a Winter’s Night, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, The Way I Feel, Did She Mention My Name, and Bitter Green. For those with a real hankering for even more vintage Lightfoot, there is the four-disc boxed set, Songbook. This, of course, culls highlights from Lightfoot’s recording career, as well as offering 16 previously unreleased tracks, plus many more making their first appearance on CD.

 

No matter which album or compilation you listen to, you will be treated to well-crafted songs, and Lightfoot’s trademark warm vocals, lovingly caressing each song.

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