High Notes

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

“Move It” by Chuck Berry

By Ron Powers For this month’s Flashback article I’d like to shine a light on an unrecognized gem by the inventor of rock and roll himself. In 1979 Chuck Berry released “Move It”, the first track off his nineteenth studio album (Rockit). In spite of no chart success, and little critical recognition, “Move It” has all the appeal of hits like “Maybellene” and “Johnny B. Good”. The song has a ruthlessly catchy melody and a backbeat that gets your head bobbing straight away. Yes, “Move It” holds up with the best of them and remains one of my favorites by the legendary rock and roll pioneer. The song begins with one of Berry’s signature guitar licks and then blasts off into the verse with a full band arrangement. We hear a scat rhythm from the guitar while the bass bops along with the drums and the piano sprinkles boogie woogie magic all over the mix. The lyrics of the first verse describe a fifty-five Ford broken down on the side of a highway with traffic piled up and a police officer upset about it. Like many of Berry’s songs, the lyrics used employ classic rock and roll imagery that combines with the music to create a flavor as classic as McDonald’s hamburgers. Rather than a fixed melody and lyrics for the chorus, Chuck relies on the groove to hold the listener’s attention. This is probably why we hardly notice that the chorus does not obey the songwriting convention of repeating melody patterns. Instead, Chuck delivers a different melody variation during each of the three chorus sections of “Move It”. Although the words “move it” are repeated, the melody and lead guitar parts change each time. You would expect this to cause attention to wane, but for this particular song, it’s…

Continue Reading

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Lonely Road by Paul McCartney

by Ron Powers This month I’m bringing you the first of a series of articles I’m doing called “Flashback”. In this series, I’ll discuss some of the lesser-known work by the biggest names in music. First on the list is a song called “Lonely Road” by Paul McCartney. “Lonely Road” is the first track off McCartney’s 2001 album “Driving Rain”. It mixes mid-tempo rock-n-roll with a spooky vocal melody to create a sophisticated and cool feeling that is both energetic and relaxed. “Lonely Road” didn’t get much recognition upon its release, but it remains one of my favorite songs by the legendary Beatle and I’m happy to have a chance to share it with you here. The song begins with a round stumbling bass line followed by a mix of drawn-out electric guitar notes and chords played through a high-quality tube amp. We also hear faint acoustic guitar chords mixing with tambourine and kick drum to create an intriguing rhythm that supports the topline nicely. With a cool and laidback melody, McCartney delivers the simple but relatable lines “I tried to get over you / I tried to find something new / but all I could ever do / was fill / my time / with thoughts / of you”. As the verse progresses organ chords are added along with a snare drum and other percussive elements. At the tail end of the verse, Paul delivers “Chuck Berry style” octave bends that create a classically cool feeling leading into the chorus. McCartney’s guitar work is particularly remarkable during the chorus of “Lonely Road”. The rhythm is interesting and unpredictable: One second we hear swooping notes that ring out for a full measure and the next thing you know Paul is attacking the strings with vigorous strumming. A second guitar is…

Continue Reading

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

“Wait 4” by “Kygo, a”

By Ron Powers I’ve been following the artist known as “Kygo, a” for several years now. Not only am I struck by the high quality of her artistic expression, but “Kygo, a” seems to be expanding the creative boundaries of music itself with each new release. Her latest single “Wait 4” is a spectacular example of the boundary-expanding quality of her music. “Kygo, a” appears to be generating a new genre of music melding classical orchestration and EDM rhythmic elements that tap into our primal urge to move and dance. There’s a sophisticated intelligence in the music and yet at the same time, there’s something very approachable and instinctual running through every note. “Wait 4” begins with the smooth thump of a kick drum tuned to the key of the song along with a focused and slightly ambient synth sound. As the song gears up we hear double note staccato horn blasts mixed with 007 like string trills. Next, “Kygo, a” establishes a groove that is composed of quarter notes from the string section and a pleasant melody delivered by a mixture of synth sounds. This mixture of synth sounds generates a completely original sonic value with a plucking effect that sounds fresh and original. For the next movement of the song, things pick up further when some classic synthesizer sounds are introduced. These synthesizers deliver a quick-paced melody and mix well with the energy-packed hi-hat rhythm and somewhat mysterious-sounding xylophone notes. We also hear a bumping bass line bopping around this section. I had the pleasure of listening to this song on a “Bang & Olufsen” sound system and it’s absolutely jaw-dropping how much power “Kygo, a” has packed into the bass frequencies of “Wait 4”. If you have access to high-quality speakers, please listen to “Wait 4” on…

Continue Reading

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Stranger Days by Skegss

By Ron Powers Mother’s Day is just around the corner, spring has sprung, flowers have bloomed, and great music is being created. This time of year brings so much new life with it and I recently found some of that life in a happy ballad called “Stranger Days” by Australian Indie rockers Skegss. This song offers the perfect amount of emotion and inspiration without sounding cheesy. Skegss delivers a clean yet tough sound with garage-rock imperfection that allows the soul of the song to shine through. No time is wasted in getting straight to the verse of “Stranger Days”. The first thing we hear is a shuffle rhythm and chord progression performed with a clean electric guitar and acoustic guitar. These two elements combine to create a smooth yet bracing texture for the melancholy yet sunny feeling topline. Singer Ben Reed delivers the relatable lines, “Stranger days will keep on comin’ / My brain’s changed but it’s still runnin’ / I get fazed and in the end it’s nothin’”. Next Skegss shifts from the airy open textures of the verse to a tight and thumping pre-chorus. Here we have a simple arrangement of palm-muted guitar chords with bass guitar following the chord roots with an eighth note rhythm. Drummer Jonny Lani completes the musical arrangement with a simple beat that mixes with the bass to create a head-bobbing groove with just the right amount of tension. Despite the high contrast between the verse and pre-chorus musical arrangements, the vocal melody maintains the emotional flow and shifts seamlessly between sections allowing for a dynamic experience without jolting the listener. As the pre-chorus draws to a close singer Ben Reed delivers the line “and may your dreams never die”. The last syllable of this line is sustained and carried on into the…

Continue Reading

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Piano Jam 5 (Ode to Kygo) by GH Hat

By Ron Powers The word enigma is defined as “a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand”. It’s also an accurate description of an artist I’ve been fascinated with since he first hit the music scene back in 2016. G.H. Hat is a multi-genre producer, remixer, composer, and performer. Over the years, he has strung together one of the most interesting and unpredictable bodies of work I’ve ever seen. He’s charted on Billboard multiple times for his pop/dance club/EDM music. He’s remixed and released a Gobsmacking 290 classical compositions. Additionally, his EDM instrumentals have had a huge impact, and he’s essentially forged a new musical genre with his enthralling series of piano jams. As other reviewers have noted “G.H. Hat’s creative process has evolved into one of the most highly regarded sounds on the market” and “The way he utilizes the benefits of modern production software puts his skill on par with that of a classical composer”. I recently was granted access to an advanced copy of GH Hat’s latest installment in his piano-jams series. The song is called “Piano Jam 5 (Ode to Kygo)” and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you about it here. “Piano Jam 5” is an instrumental that begins with a single kick drum and crash cymbal accompanied by a reversed piano chord that swells into a solitary bass line. The bass line delivers a tough and steady feeling while dashes of lead guitar and pick slides are sprinkled in. As one writer accurately put it while referring to G.H. Hat’s music, “It’s almost impossible to listen … and not feel energized after”. Additionally, we hear a descending piano melody that shimmers and mingles with the bass and guitar. G.H. then picks up the pace by adding percussive synth notes…

Continue Reading

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Won’t Stand Down by Muse

By Ron Powers UK rock band Muse is back with a heavyweight gem called “Won’t Stand Down”. The song delivers the band’s Radiohead-meets-Metallica signature sound and explodes with defiant punk rock lyrics delivered with operatic and inspiring melodies. It’s the sort of song you listen to while lifting weights or when you need to get pumped up for a ray gun fight in space. Muse mixes elements of metal, classical, and theatrical rock to create a sound that is unlike any band before them. In a music scene that is producing an extraordinary meager amount of good rock-n-roll, Muse stands as a stronghold for the rock gods to be channeled through. Let’s hope it inspires some young hearts to carry the torch into the future. “Won’t’ Stand Down” sets the stage with a brief ambient pad sound along with a plucked string melody that has a touch of spookiness to it. This is quickly followed by a sonic hammer composed of blown-out guitar, bass, and kick drum that makes you feel like electricity is pulsing in your head. Between these heavy blasts of sound, we hear a slow and steady beat decorated with clean and icy guitar chords. For the first verse singer, Matt Bellamy delivers the empowering lines… “I never believed that I would concede / And let someone trample on me / You strung me along, / I thought I was strong / But you were just gaslighting me / I’ve opened my eyes and counted the lies / And now it is clearer to me / You are just a user and an abuser / Living vicariously”. After the first verse, most of the music drops out leaving a biting guitar riff with a touch of flanger effect witch swoops into a head-bobbing breakdown. It’s easy to…

Continue Reading

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Never in My Wildest Dreams by Dan Auerbach

By Ron Powers Valentine’s Day is coming up so I thought it would be nice to dig up a love song to write about. In 2017 the lead singer of The Black Keys (Dan Auerbach) released his second solo album which includes a heartfelt and sweet love song called “Never in My Wildest Dreams”. The song has a quiet and shy feel to it and reflects a gentle side of an artist that is typically delivering tough blues-rock. Blown-out love songs full of fiery passion are all well and good but on “Never in My Wildest Dreams” Auerbach expresses a more endearing side of love that I appreciate. Listening to this song is a pleasant experience from start to finish and might be the perfect tune to share with your Valentine this year. The song begins with a lovely acoustic guitar arrangement that has an up-close and intimate sound. We hear the rhythm acoustic deliver a simple country strum pattern that alternates between bass notes and chord strums while the lead acoustic plucks out a sentimental melody line. I love the production quality of these guitars. Dan Auerbach captures the raw essence of the instruments in a way that is so sweet to the ears. You can even hear the creek of the strings as callused fingertips press the notes down on the fretboard. For the first verse, we hear Auerbach deliver a pleasant yet catching little melody that sounds like it comes straight from the softest part of his heart. I like the second half of the first verse’s lyrics in particular when he delivers the lines “You’re just too good to touch / I can’t discuss it much / I get too choked up / Don’t what to make a seen / Never in my wildest dreams”. The…

Continue Reading

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

The Hardest Cut by Spoon

By Ron Powers The Hardest Cut by Spoon I hope you had a nice holiday season and are ready to make 2022 a great year. This month I’m going to focus on a fantastic number called “The Hardest Cut” by Austin, Texas rock-n-rollers Spoon. “The Hardest Cut” is the first single off their upcoming album, Lucifer On The Sofa, due out in February. This song makes you want to put on a pair of sunglasses and swivel your hips from beat one. It’s stone-cold cool and fun at the same time and if you like rock-n-roll music you’ll love “The Hardest Cut”. The song begins with room microphones picking up the sound of handclaps and snare drum rimshots. In the midst of this, one of the band members counts off the song before one of the best guitar riffs I’ve heard in a long time is introduced. Under the crispy and grooving riff, the band layer thick 70s style drums and bass which combined to produce a tone and weight most rock bands only dream about producing. “The Hardest Cut” is the sort of song that feels so fresh and appealing from the start that you almost don’t need to listen to the song to know you love it. Singer Britt Daniel deepens the cool vibe of this song with plucky and headstrong lyrics. The first verse sets the stage with the lines, “You took off in the dead of night / But before you did, got your hair combed right, yeah / The neighborhood watch knows the score / And they’re knockin’ at your door, let them knock some more”. Under the vocal the main riff along with drums and bass keep things grooving as the song twists its way to the pre-chorus. For the pre-chorus, the top line…

Continue Reading

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Drive By Baby by Alabama Shakes

By Ron Powers Drive By Baby by Alabama Shakes I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season and all the festivities that go along with it. This month I’ll be focusing on a new track by Alabama Shakes. The Athens, Alabama hailing band recently released a deluxe edition of their 2015 multi-Grammy-winning album “Sound & Color” which includes three new tracks. “Drive By Baby” is one of the three new songs and I’ll be discussing it here. This song offers all the rich and textured sound we’ve come to expect from Alabama Shakes along with up-tempo almost punk rock energy. “Drive By Baby” begins with a fast drum roll played on a piccolo snare, a fresh and clean guitar rhythm, and a rambling bass line. An image of the Road Runner from Loonytoons cartoons comes to mind for some reason. The feeling is so light and zippy, it lifted my mood right away. As the first verse is introduced, low-end frequencies and light distortion are added to the mix, giving the song’s sound plenty of extra weight. We then hear singer Brittany Howard deliver the lines: “I see you screaming, and I’ve never seen you here before / Well come on baby you got my attention come on and get you some more / You give me feelings feeling that I couldn’t digest / I’m in your future You just don’t even know.” After the verse, the band switches gears and delivers an unconventional and understated chorus. We hear the instrumentation stripped back to bass guitar and drums during this section, with guitar lightly following the bass line. Atop the music multiple layers of vocals are added which repeat the lines “Drive by baby won’t you let me ride / Then we’ll ride all right all right all right”. These lines…

Continue Reading

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Forget It I’m In Love by Les Shirley

By Ron Powers Forget It I’m In Love by Les Shirley Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I couldn’t be more thankful for the upbeat banger of a song I have to share with you this month. “Forget It I’m In Love” is by Montreal-based power trio Les Shirley and is the 10th track off the band’s first full-length album “Forever Is Now”. This song delivers everything you might want in a catchy rock tune. From fun riffs, and cool melodies, to a zipping guitar solo that hits like a bolt of lightning. I’d be lying if I said “Forget It I’m In Love” didn’t have it all. Singer/guitarist Raphaëlle Chouinard begins the song with a spunky riff reminiscent of “A-punk” by Vampire Weekend except with a ska rhythm. The intro riff is quickly followed by the sound of rumbling bass guitar and drums with plenty of compression and saturation. As the verse is introduced the guitar switches to meaty chords and we hear the first lines of the song… “I think we met at a bar on a Monday / We had a mutual friend and we kicked it right away / I’m so glad you came”. Between the first and second verses, that catchy riff that introduced the song is repeated. Then Raphaëlle continues telling her story of meeting and falling in love with a stranger at a bar. Transitioning out of the verse we hear the lines “I can take a fight / bring it” sung with a melody reminiscent of Johnny Rotton of The Sex Pistols. Tough-sounding guitar chords and bass notes performed with a stuttering staccato rhythm support the melody along with a pumping drum beat flowing underneath. Next, the band cuts loose with a melodic lead guitar line which repeats while the bass…

Continue Reading

View More