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Move Me

Move Me

As readers of My Heart Sings the Harmony know, I really only have one set-in-stone requirement for any music that I’m going to choose to make part of my life: move me. Make me feel something.

The reason this came to mind this week is a concert that I went to the other night, that I didn’t review, and really couldn’t have, since I don’t know the artist’s body of work all that well. What I did know was his reputation as a top-flight guitarist whose skills are admired by many fellow musicians.

That reputation attracts a certain kind of crowd. In 40 years of show-going I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many musos and gearheads of all ages clustered at the edge of the stage before the show checking out the gear, nodding approvingly at the Marshall stacks, pedal racks and array of instruments waiting on stage for the band to emerge from the wings.

Once they did, the music was expertly played, a mix of instrumental and vocal numbers with tremendous stylistic range, embracing at different points hard blues, swinging jazz, and chunky-riffed rock. The bandleader and marquee name lived up to his rep, playing with astonishing speed and dexterity during his many—and I do mean many—solos.

That said, after two hours of music, I was left feeling… nothing. No emotional response at all to the music made, nor any desire to hear any of it played again. It was technically brilliant but emotionally flat-lined, a red-hot player who focused all of his effort on his instrument and none of it on connecting with his audience.

The next afternoon I sat down in my family room to take a quick peek at a track or two from the new Big Big Train concert DVD Reflectors of Light, and ended up spending two-plus hours watching the entire show. Here were songs that offered the virtuoso chops progressive rock demands, but only as a complement to and amplification of that all-important ingredient: heart. Meaningful lyrics supported by dynamic, emotionally engaging music.

Later the same day I traded tweets with Becky Warren, the extraordinarily talented singer-songwriter behind two of the most captivating albums I’ve come across in recent years. Warren’s smartly-arranged honky-tonk tunes feature wise, affecting lyrics she delivers with soul-baring authenticity. The emotional distance between her work and that of the artist I saw the other night couldn’t be greater without one of them leaving the planet.

Twenty years ago, when I asked Ronnie Montrose for his thoughts on some of the other players working the same instrumental-guitar musical space he was at the time , he struggled to be diplomatic in his response. “I’m long past that point,” he finally said, “of looking at guitar music as a competition, or guitar playing as calisthenics or gymnastics… I think that mindset is sort of horrid.” Sometime after that, the first time he asked me to write a professional bio for him, I began it with four words that I felt captured the essence of what was special about his playing: “Heat, passion, texture, tone.”

In the end, what made Montrose a special guitar player wasn’t the technical skill he possessed—which was tremendous—it was what he put into his playing: his whole heart and soul. You didn’t just hear his riffs and solos, you felt them. And that, for me, is the highest calling of any form of art: to make us feel.

Comment (1)

  • Greg Grant

    I’m feeling it! gg

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