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Author Topic:  Guardian article: ambient country
Chris Brooks

 

From:
Providence, Rhode Island
Post  Posted 9 Jun 2020 6:31 am    
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Here’s an article of interest today. It’s by April Clare Welsh in the Guardian, entitled "'A reconsideration of the white male cowboy': the rise of ambient country." She names Chuck Johnson, Susan Alcorn, Sarah Jory, Robert Randolph, Daniel Lanois, Bruce Kaphan, all well known (I think) to us here on the Forum; and “US cowpunk trailblazers Rubber Rodeo,” with steeler Mark Tomeo.

The article describes an emergent music that is a blend of country and other genres, whose “artists emphasise [sic] abstract expression over linear narrative and conventional structures.”

Welsh writes:

“With its various knee levers and strings, the pedal steel guitar – which originated, pre-pedals, in Hawaii – is difficult to learn and conventionally used as part of a band. ‘It’s basically a machine rather than an instrument, a product of the 20th-century industrial age,’ Johnson says. ‘You might as well be operating a forklift and be trying to make it sound pretty.’ Johnson remembers his first encounter with the pedal steel guitar, back in his home town of Durham, North Carolina. ‘It was a total disaster. I couldn’t make anything happen with it, which was humbling, to the point that I didn’t pursue it again for many years.’”

It's a thought-provoking piece, and it shows that steel is still on the map.

Chris
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Barry Blackwood


Post  Posted 9 Jun 2020 7:24 am    
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Quote:
The article describes an emergent music that is a blend of country and other genres, whose “artists emphasise [sic] abstract expression over linear narrative and conventional structures.”

What does that mean, exactly? Shocked
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Bill Sinclair


From:
Hagerstown, Maryland, USA
Post  Posted 9 Jun 2020 7:57 am    
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Barry Blackwood wrote:
Quote:
The article describes an emergent music that is a blend of country and other genres, whose “artists emphasise [sic] abstract expression over linear narrative and conventional structures.”

What does that mean, exactly? Shocked


I take that to mean not a repeating chord structure or melody but I haven't found the article yet. Very curious though.
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Mike Auman


From:
North Texas, US
Post  Posted 9 Jun 2020 8:23 am    
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Thanks Chris! The article's in the UK version, and includes a sample playlist with Kaki King, Daniel Lanois, Bruce Kaphan and others: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/jun/09/a-reconsideration-of-the-white-male-cowboy-the-rise-of-ambient-country

Mike
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Jamie Howze

 

From:
Boise, ID
Post  Posted 9 Jun 2020 11:10 am    
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I was just about to post about this article and found this thread while checking that I wouldn't be repeating an existing post.

I've always been attracted to "noisy" music and can go back to my LPs from the '60s and '70s and see my love of ambient and not-so-ambient freeform has been pretty consistent.

The samples in the article offer a good, varied peek into this world for the uninitiated. I recognize that these styles aren't everyone's cup of tea (or even most folks'), but you gotta admit it's not the same old stuff.
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Erv Niehaus


From:
Litchfield, MN, USA
Post  Posted 9 Jun 2020 11:43 am    
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I like the same old stuff. Rolling Eyes
Erv
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Clyde Mattocks

 

From:
Kinston, North Carolina, USA
Post  Posted 9 Jun 2020 11:54 am    
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I like making them durl de durl durl sounds.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 9 Jun 2020 12:24 pm    
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One part of me gets irritated that people can't hear pedal steel without being transported to a landscape of desert buttes. Another part of me is thrilled that all I need to do, musically, to evoke an entire world of mood and feeling is step on the A+B pedals.

Two of the musical projects I am working right now play into what this article talks about. One is with a singer-songwriter whose songs are more folk than country, but tell stories inspired by, and set in, the Southwest. Another is a group of ambient musicians who are drawn to the fact that pedal steel so easily creates soundscapes - while they have to tinker with their effects and rethink their fretboards to do the same.
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Chris Brooks

 

From:
Providence, Rhode Island
Post  Posted 9 Jun 2020 3:22 pm    
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Erv said he likes the same old stuff. So does Chris! Been listening a lot to the 2 Buddys, and Chalker.

But the different new stuff is interesting too.

Chris
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Jack Hanson


From:
San Luis Valley, USA
Post  Posted 10 Jun 2020 8:56 am    
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Erv Niehaus wrote:
I like the same old stuff. Rolling Eyes
Erv

I dig the old stuff I've never heard before that's new to me. Most, if not all, of the new stuff I find only mildly interesting. I call it evolution; I am now what my grandpa was back in the day. But that's okay.
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Mike Neer


From:
NJ
Post  Posted 10 Jun 2020 10:32 am    
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I don't think any artists out there are creating recordings with the sole intention of satisfying the steel guitar community. It would be nice to have the acceptance of your peers, but there is a much bigger world out there. If your only reaction to the arrival of other forms of music using steel guitar is "I like the old stuff", then I think that's fine, you should go and make your own recordings of that old stuff. But don't dismiss any person's efforts.

The progression of time has given many of us the benefit of having been exposed to many, many types of music. For me, the music that utilizes the steel guitar was only a small blip on the radar, but I love the instrument enough to think that I could make my own style with it. It's a healthy goal, I think.
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Last edited by Mike Neer on 10 Jun 2020 11:00 am; edited 1 time in total
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Mike Petryk

 

From:
Waterford NY USA
Post  Posted 10 Jun 2020 10:49 am    
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Barry Blackwood wrote:
Quote:
The article describes an emergent music that is a blend of country and other genres, whose “artists emphasise [sic] abstract expression over linear narrative and conventional structures.”

What does that mean, exactly? Shocked


It sounds like a description of Buddy's playing on NightLife.
Regards,
Mike
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Brooks Montgomery


From:
Idaho, USA
Post  Posted 10 Jun 2020 12:39 pm    
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Barry Blackwood wrote:
Quote:
The article describes an emergent music that is a blend of country and other genres, whose “artists emphasise [sic] abstract expression over linear narrative and conventional structures.”

What does that mean, exactly? Shocked


It means that it is sumptuous and fruity, with traces of savory and smoke. Has a bit of a leathery and tobacco finish, which does not hide the black berry tanginess. Best served live.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 10 Jun 2020 1:15 pm    
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I like old stuff but I know how to listen to new stuff.

Grandpa

P.S. the article is interesting, subject to the limitations of trying to describe music in words.
Worth it for the playlist.
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Paul Strojan

 

From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 10 Jun 2020 9:12 pm    
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I want to be respectful of this forum and avoid a repeat of "The One on the Left is on the Right."
The idea that we are asked to reconsider bothers me. I have seen the term "reconsider" used in reference to the banjo, accordion, and now the steel guitar. Each article touches on new directions the subject instrument is taking but fails to look back at the talent that led to those instruments being typecast. The pioneers of pedal steel were incredibly talented and we should give them their due.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 11 Jun 2020 7:08 am    
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Paul Strojan wrote:
I want to be respectful of this forum and avoid a repeat of "The One on the Left is on the Right."
The idea that we are asked to reconsider bothers me. I have seen the term "reconsider" used in reference to the banjo, accordion, and now the steel guitar. Each article touches on new directions the subject instrument is taking but fails to look back at the talent that led to those instruments being typecast. The pioneers of pedal steel were incredibly talented and we should give them their due.


That incredible talent may be the reason it needs reconsideration. In the course of a single generation, those incredible talents developed the pedal steel from infancy to their fullest vision for it - where it reached its natural dead end. It had such great success that their vision for pedal steel is burned into people's musical consciousness... but there is nowhere left to go down that road. And the rest of the musical world has moved on anyway. It's time to load our packs with the things from the past that will be useful for us in the future of pedal steel... and lift our anchors.

I see no issue with a 'back to the basics' approach of seeing the pedal steel for what it essentially is - an instrument that occupies the role of a string section and is designed to bend notes and chords - instead of simply reinforcing musical traditions that are often not useful. I think adopting that attitude allows an appreciation for the steel players of the past because it certainly wasn't tradition when they created their styles. They created them to serve a purpose instead of to serve a tradition.
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Barry Blackwood


Post  Posted 11 Jun 2020 8:53 am    
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Quote:
[Quote:
The article describes an emergent music that is a blend of country and other genres, whose “artists emphasise [sic] abstract expression over linear narrative and conventional structures.”

What does that mean, exactly?
Shocked


It means that it is sumptuous and fruity, with traces of savory and smoke. Has a bit of a leathery and tobacco finish, which does not hide the black berry tanginess. Best served live.

Laughing Laughing Laughing Indeed!
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post  Posted 11 Jun 2020 9:22 am    
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I like the music, but I don't like the tenor of the article. IMO, all this kind of stuff does is increase the divide between different approaches to playing pedal steel and different musical cultures, when in fact there's no need to do so. And I'm not sure what the hell this has to do with "white male cowboys", except as an attention-grabber for their intended audience. Although I'm sure there are some, I don't personally know any cowboys that play steel and I doubt they form a large percentage of steel players. And I doubt most of the audience for steel guitar music are cowboys either. To me, the title even sort of suggests that there's something wrong with "white male cowboys" and is just another rambling stereotype of the instrument, the music it is used on, and its audience.

I think it's great to blaze new trails. And there are lots of new trails to blaze with steel guitar - Lord knows, it has been mercilessly typecast. But IMO, not so much by the players of the instrument, but much more by the rest of the culture, including musical culture. Most musicians expect, when I pull out a pedal steel, to "be[] transported to a landscape of desert buttes", as Curt aptly put it, when it's capable of so much more. And this isn't due to leading pedal steel players not wanting to push or actually pushing the envelope, but the reluctance of audiences, and especially, IMO, other musicians, to accept it in any other context. And I'm not just talking about country audiences or musicians - I play lots of different styles of music, and the only ones that ever seem to want pedal steel are country/Americana/folk, and sometimes rockabilly. Yes, there are exceptions, but I think that is the dominant mentality.

So I'm all in for breaking down barriers for steel guitar. But I think we should be circumspect before trying to push cultural separation of the styles of music on which it is played. Or maybe that is requisite now - i.e., the idea that the cultural divide, not the music, defines the music and audience. But I think it is better to push back hard on that idea. To me, music is capable of helping unite people, and in and of itself does not need to divide them. That's certainly what happened with rock and roll and other styles that intermingled musical and social cultures in the 50s and 60s. Only later did things re-polarize more.

Quote:
... and “US cowpunk trailblazers Rubber Rodeo,” with steeler Mark Tomeo.

Sorta found it interesting that they talked about Rubber Rodeo without mentioning Mark - I mean, if you're gonna name-drop ... the subject seemed to be, I think, steel guitar in alternative styles of music, and Mark was there very early.

Quote:
It means that it is sumptuous and fruity, with traces of savory and smoke. Has a bit of a leathery and tobacco finish, which does not hide the black berry tanginess. Best served live.

Ha - yeah, that was my reaction too.

Quote:
It had such great success that their vision for pedal steel is burned into people's musical consciousness... but there is nowhere left to go down that road. [emphasis mine]

Um, sorry, I don't agree with that. Lots of new stuff to explore - you don't have to throw out everything that came before to find something new. If scientists did that, we'd be back in the dark ages still.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 11 Jun 2020 9:45 am    
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Dave Mudgett wrote:
Quote:
It had such great success that their vision for pedal steel is burned into people's musical consciousness... but there is nowhere left to go down that road. [emphasis mine]

Um, sorry, I don't agree with that. Lots of new stuff to explore - you don't have to throw out everything that came before to find something new. If scientists did that, we'd be back in the dark ages still.


I don't disagree. I'm just saying that I have never seen anyone on this forum say, "wow, [insert name of younger steeler] really picks up where Buddy/Ralph/John Huhgey,etc. left off."
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Joachim Kettner


From:
Germany
Post  Posted 11 Jun 2020 10:01 am    
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I did a some sessions a few years ago when I was asked stuff like to "lay down a blanket" under the music. Strangely, or not, they liked it. But for me it was absolutly no challenge, and I didn't want to hear it afterwards.
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Erv Niehaus


From:
Litchfield, MN, USA
Post  Posted 11 Jun 2020 10:33 am    
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We have been stereotyped for quite a while.
I play a lot of gospel music on the steel guitar and have played in several different churches but there are some churches that frown on the steel guitar.
They have even called it a "bar" guitar, not because it's played with bar but the place they associate it being played in. Sad
Erv
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Mike Anderson


From:
British Columbia, Canada
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2020 4:22 am    
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The writer lost me at “white, male.” Rolling Eyes
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George Redmon


Post  Posted 14 Jun 2020 5:29 pm    
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First, this "Ambiance" thing has been done on standard 6 string guitar forever, we're just now catching up? Embarassed

You don't have to like it, you don't have to play it. Just the very fact that we may have yet another... direction for the steel guitar to grow in, is such exciting news in itself. It's a very positive step, in the much needed re-branding of the steel guitar. To make it a fresh, new, exciting, versatile, instrument, suited for all ages, for all genres of music. Not some strange intimidating weird looking instrument, no one can learn to play.

To my good buddy Erv:

When i think of a bar or tavern instrument, i think of the piano myself.

Erv Wrote

Quote:
We have been stereotyped for quite a while.


And my good friend Erv, why are we so "Stereotyped?" well.....because:

Quote:
I like the same old stuff.
Erv


Now.... not a thing wrong with "the same old stuff", love it myself. But because we like "the same old stuff", we play the same old stuff.....
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Erv Niehaus


From:
Litchfield, MN, USA
Post  Posted 15 Jun 2020 7:25 am    
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George,
I go back sooooo far that, for me, the old stuff is Hawaiian! Whoa!
Erv
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Mitch Drumm

 

From:
Frostbite Falls, hard by Veronica Lake
Post  Posted 15 Jun 2020 8:37 am    
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Mike Anderson wrote:
The writer lost me at “white, male.” Rolling Eyes


I managed to get past that, but gave up when I saw this pic.

I'm tempted to say "affected", but one wouldn't want to be judgmental, would one?

I see from the article that "Suss co-founder Bob Holmes" says "We might capture this big sky Montana feel, but we’re urban musicians". Apparently without irony.


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