Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Cowboy Waltz - Bob Walters

Rusty's waltz wednesday presents: Cowboy Waltz, by Bob Walters

Bob Walters:

I first found out about Bob Walters from some old-time playing friends. I think someone shared his version of Melinda with me, and I took to his fiddling right away. Something about coming from a (mildly) classical violin background, and the precision of his bowing and fingering must have struck a chord. So I went out and bought a double-CD recording from a man at the Missouri Traditional Dance and Fiddle Network. The whole thing was very old-timey - we communicated through e-mail, and he personally mailed me the CD after I transfered the money through pay-pal.

Now, what I know about Bob Walters I gleamed from the extensive liner notes that came with the album: The Champion. Bob was born in 1889, and as it turns out, Bob Walters was not from Missouri as I had assumed, but from Nebraska - north and to the west of Missouri. Bob came from a fiddling family, but in those days, like many traditional musicians, music was not his main source of income. Mr. Walters tried farming at first, and then worked as a janitor when the farming didn't work out. A nice anecdote told by his wife Goldie:
He’d go out in the morning with his team and then he’d come home in the middle of the morning. She’d ask, “What’s the matter, Dad?” “Oh, I just thought of a tune” and he’d go in and play until noon. Then they’d have lunch and he’d go out in the field again. But about three o’clock in the afternoon or so, here he’d come in again and she’d want to know what’s wrong–“Oh, just thought of a tune.” But Goldie stuck with him and looked after him.
Bob played in and won many fiddle competitions, which helped him get into broadcasting his fiddle playing on radio shows in the 'thirties and 'fourties. I don't think those were recorded, but must have been a great treat to hear. Bob Walters died at age 70 in 1960, the day after Christmas.

The song:

"Dwight, we're gonna play your old favorite: cowboy waltz!" Like so many other midwestern tunes, the chords follow the I-IV-I-V-I pattern, in both melody sections. I guess I assumed Bob was from Missouri because people tend to call those the Missouri chord changes, and he plays so many of those tunes. In any case, the liner notes say that Cowboy Waltz was a common Missouri tune.

What I noticed upon re-close-listening to this tune is the syncopation that Bob plays with in the first section. For a good while, I probably played it too straight, and I really appreciate Bob's playing for those kinds of subtleties.

The second melody section is my favorite part of the tune. It has a real lonesome sound and has always sounded familiar to me, as if I'd heard it in Feivel Goes West when I was little, or some Ken Burns documentary. Maybe the effect comes from holding those high D notes for 3 beats, or maybe it's from the resolving part of the melody.

This is the first fiddle tune I've shared on waltz wednesday: blog format. I'm going to set up an email account soon if anyone wants to send suggestions for songs that they come across in waltz format - anyway, I'll post about that another time. Enjoy the tune!

Happy new year to one and all!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Fifth post: Beach House's On the Sea

Rusty's waltz wednesday presents: On the Sea, by Beach House

Beach House, the band:

Beach house is a pop duo hailing from Baltimore, I really like them. I think people call their style "dream pop", which is pretty apt. Their songs tend to have strong vocal-driven melodies. Singer Victoria Legrand's voice soars above their tracks, and (to my ear) is augmented by effects that give it a fuzzy echo feel; it's all very dreamy. Guitarist Alex Scally picks out repetitive patterns on his electric guitar, and I think he uses some tremolo-like effect. It's all in very good taste.

The song:

True to our (post-modern) times, there's no obvious story to this song. It's the type of song where I've rarely paid attention to the lyrics. To my ear they help punctuate the melody, yet there's nothing in them that stand out, or bother me. Kind of like a good defensive defenceman in hockey: you don't notice him/her, but that's usually a good thing. Her vocals feature a (tasteful) sparing use of vibrato, and weaves in with Scally's guitar work.

Scally picks out lightly chorded triplets on his guitar which weave their way through the chord changes. Legrand uses a honky-tonk sound on her keyboard which drives the song along nicely. I really like the guitar solo at a minute-thirty-five which appears later in the song: Scally simply fast-picks out the melody to great effect.

Merry Christmas to all! May this song remind everyone of nice weather and long days to come (eventually...I hope).

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Fourth post: Sidor Belarsky sings Dem Milners Trern

Rusty's waltz wednesday presents: Dem Milners Trern, by Sidor Belarsky.

A word, if I may, about Sidor Belarsky (et al.):

I think I had promised last week to put up a fiddle tune, but circumstances have changed and I've been listening to this one in particular a lot. Sidor Belarsky was a Jew from southern Ukraine - not a Galitzianer (western Ukraine) like my grandparents, but hey, nobody's pecfect. ("Sidor" means prayer-book in Hebrew).

His opera singing so impressed a visiting president of the Mormon Brigham Young university (in Utah), that Sidor was invited to join the faculty as a professor of music.His career began in opera, but after some encounters with prominent members of various jewish organizations, he became an important collector and interpreter of jewish folk/litturgical music.

The composer, Mark Warshavsky, was an important Yiddish poet and folk musician of his day (late 19th, early 20th c.), and drew high praise from the great yiddish writer and cultural icon Sholem Aleichem.

The song:

I wasn't at all sure if this was a waltz at first, but the piano playing gives it away. What made me so uncertain about this peice is also what's so great about it: the dramatic changes in rhythm that almost entirely break the 3/4 time signature. More about that in a hot minute.

The song is a lament about the fate of the Jews in czarist Russia, whose expulsion is foreshadowed in the final vers: "di reyder dreyn zich, di yoyrne geyn zich, un oych mit zeyn git'oys der Yid" - "The years go by, the wheel turns along, and along with them go the jews".

Belarsky's use of rhythm changes is done to great effect. The rhythm slows almost to a halt at the end of each verse when he sings "di yoyrne geyn zich" ("The years go by"), and then picks for the final line of the verse, and into the piano rounds that punctuate the four verses.

I'm going to dedicate this post to my zayde, who's not well  right now and to whom I sang this song (and many others) last night in the hospital.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Third post: Zohar Argov: Badad

Rusty's waltz wednesday presents: Badad, by Zohar Argov

A word, if I may, about Zohar Argov:

An Israeli Jew of yeminite descent, he rose to prominence as the first "Mizrachit" ("Eastern music") star in 1982 by winning a major Israeli song competition with the brilliant (but not waltzy) "Haperach Be'Gani" ("The flower in my garden").

Mizrachi music was a marginalized music form coming from a marginalized segment of society, made up of Jews who were relatively newer immigrants and refugees to the young country from such countries as Iraq, Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Zohar Argov was the seminal artist who brought Mizrachit to everyone's attention; today, he is simply referred to as "Ha'Melech" ("The King").

The song:

Badad ("Alone") is a lamentation, about a guy who loses his girl. The song slowly builds: the second verse is a bit punchier than the first, same with the chorus, and continues to build until reaching its zenith with a key change at roughly 4 minutes.

The flamenco sounds of the horns, a well as the strings, are typical for Argov's sound,  this one written and composed by Amasai Levin and Uzi Melamed. Zohar's voice is so powerful, and so cutting, and his control in those higher notes is outstanding, it's just gut-wrenching.

Tune in next week, I might post a fiddle tune.

This post is dedicated to my dear friends Maayan and Ben, who introduced me to The King.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Retroactive second post: 19/11/2014 - Friends

rsty's waltz wednesday presents: Beach Boys' Friends.

What to say... Genius Brian Wilson probably wrote every note on this, harmonies and weird musical breaks and bridges included. It bears the signature sound of his "pet sounds" era, among which my favorite is the barritone sax.

The break that starts at about 0:50 until the beginning of the second verse some twenty seconds later is my fave part. (‪#‎waltzwednesday‬)

This was my second - or third? - waltz wednesday post from facebook. I'll wait until zuckerberg et al. get a search function for my wall, and then we will know the answer.

Retroactive first post: 29/10/2014 - Pitseleh

rusty's waltz wednesdays presents:

Elliott Smith's Pitseleh. One of THREE(!!) waltzes off the album XO (one of which was nominated for an academy award for good will hunting). What other pop artist makes so many waltzes? idk man.

This song has it all: guitar work, honky tonk piano, creepy harmonies.

This was my first - or second? - rusty's waltz wednesday posting, from facebook.