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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

May 08, 2006

Sarah Beth Keeley - Time

Around the turn of the century, I bought a record by a new Canadian singer-songwriter by the name of Carolyn Dawn Johnson. The opening cut of Room With a View, "Georgia," is a stone classic.
If I'm not over you by Georgia
Then I'll head to Alabama
Roll on to Mississippi
Or maybe Louisiana
I'll drive all the way
To California
Oh, I won't turn around
No, I won't turn around

It's a great song in a strong collection, but the thing that really hooked me about the record was the sound. There was something about the vocal I'd never really heard before. It was dry, but not in the sense that it had no reverb at all. There was a little bit, only you couldn't really hear it. The main thing about the effect is that it sounds totally natural. Quite a lot of the time in the history of recorded music, producers have been trying to artificially create a performance environment, whether a concert hall or an intimate club. "Georgia" just sounded like someone sitting in front of you in your living room.

All of which is by way of a long introduction to Sarah Beth Keeley, another singer-songwriter from the same Canadian territory as CDJ (Alberta). And that SBK was inspired by CDJ is clear to hear in the dry vocal, the smooth sound, the sweet vocal tone, and a nice collection of songs.

Check, check, check.

Except: CDJ's 2001 debut was on Arista, and produced by Paul Worley (Sara Evans, Dixie Chicks), so you'd be entitled to have high expectations of the production quality - which are met.

SBK, on the other hand, is her own record company. And, together with local producer/engineer Emre uNal, she wrote and arranged these songs herself, and recorded them in a Calgary studio with friends and session musicians.

Is there a difference in quality? No. In a blind listening test, I wouldn't prefer one of these to the other.

The major difference is that CDJ's MySpace page has had 31847 views and her songs 47606 plays. SBK has had 1617 profile views and 2930 plays.

We've had several discussions over the past week or so about MySpace, and the need to be "your own personal John Peel" and whether people feel they can really do that.

It brings to mind what Nick Hornby wrote in 31 Songs. The problem we music lovers increasingly face is that our cherished tunes are being gobbled up and fed back to us by the marketing industry. This has been happening for a couple of decades, of course, but the process is so accelerated now that (a) nothing is sacred and (b) time is irrelevant.

When I was growing up, it was unthinkable that an actual Frank Sinatra recording would be used in an advert. It just never happened. And you'd think, too, that bands like The Velvet Underground would stay off limits, but they don't. As Hornby writes, the people who work in advertising and marketing are the same as the rest of us, and for some reason they see nothing wrong with using sacred music in advertising. There is no line in the sand, and these people have no moral compass.

All of which means, your commercially released, classic and current, popular music is being hosed back at you 24 hours a day, wherever you go. They don't have muzak in supermarkets any more. They have fucking Tony Blackburn playing classic hits. Adverts, airports, supermarkets. I saw a CD in Tesco the other day, had five or six great classic tracks on it. 97 pence.

In such a context, MySpace is a lifeline to great music that is unsullied by major marketing campaigns, that is being produced by talented individuals with day jobs, the kind of people you might work with, who work hard by day and play every night; who scrape together money to record an album in a decent studio and then sell it through CD Baby. And, no, it doesn't cost 97 pence. It costs $15, plus postage (I got the artwork and supplied my own case).

Now, there's a lot of shite out there. It's quite heartening, for me, to come across people who are clearly less talented than me. And there are major artists on there too. But that's a good thing, because you can follow connections - like the one from CDJ to SBK - and pick up a thread. You really do start to build a network of music that you like because it's made by people who like the same (commercial) stuff as you.

So hold your nose and jump in, and get your hands dirty.


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