Songwriter Series: Volume 4
Brownbird Rudy Relic
Brownbird Rudy Relic is on a mission to save a dying art form: the blues. Since its inception, the blues have shape shifted multiple times and has settled under the electric, Chicago-style canopy that dominates the genre. Brownbird Rudy Relic plays music born on the Delta and left for dead on its trip northward. With a few chord progressions and thunderous vocals, he takes on the role of a modern day Frankenstein, reassembling a torn carcass, and unleashing the monster on an unsuspecting populous. But I should step back for a moment, dear reader, and restrain my attempt at metaphor or enlightened prose, and explain why Brownbird deserves every ounce of respect available in the music community. He is a musician that plays music to affect those in witness as much as to relieve the creative pressure inside his body – demanding to be released. Take one look at any photograph of Brownbird playing live and the expression painting his features is proof enough that he is the physical manifestation of his art.
He is assisted on his quest by two weapons of choice: a resonator guitar and kazoo. Yes you read that right, a kazoo. But these are merely bookending a booming voice that has a certain Patton-esque quality. He channels the pioneers that came before, as if connected to them by a paranormal force, giving his music an authenticity lacking in his contemporaries. This dedication can be heard in every breath he pulls into lungs that act as a furnace for the inferno lacing the sound that exits his lips. He is a master in every sense of the word, hiding under the noses of those that would benefit from his influence. Each song transcribed from an experience that can only be firsthand. For example, on the heart wrenching song, My Last Goodbye, from the outstanding Chicano Dynamite record, Brownbird croons the tearful lyrics:
“Now I made a promise, that if I ever got this low, I would quite this world and give up
Everything you know…So this is, this is, this is my last goodbye…”
The power in the words is matched by his expert voice – shading the theme even further into depression. But the best songs are always sad ones, aren’t they? I think so and Brownbird writes the some of the best songs out there.
His voice almost cries each composition he writes, as if his body is unconsciously fighting the memory of that hurt, not wanting to rehash such a dark recollection. But beneath the torn fragments and bruised edges, resides an unblemished truth. And, at times, it escapes its dark secret place to lift its voice to the heavens. On the upbeat foot stomper, Coughing up Love, he writes:
“Baby I, I feel sick, I think I’m gonna cough up love. I don’t know about this thing called being in love and being honest, baby.”
There is a feeling of irony that cannot be denied. He is unfamiliar in love and thinks it’s an affliction, rather than something to be enjoyed. This honesty makes for a better song, no matter how simple the melody. This talent is something that you’re born with, it cannot be taught. Brownbird was born into this world with guitar in hand and a story tumbling from his lips.
Brownbird Rudy Relic knows that blues is more than a sad song; it’s a way of life. Only certain individuals can handle the burden of being a true bluesman, but Brownbird carries the weight with a determined look and straight back. He is an artist that must be experienced to be understood. Whether he’s traveling the country, blowing the doors of tattoo shops and dive bars, or busking in the middle of a busy downtown New York street, he demands the attention of those that take a moment to listen.
Songwriter Series: Volume 3
The Haunted Windchimes
Close your eyes and imagine what brings you peace. A flower filled meadow on a perfect summer day; or a soft cushion of grass located next to a slow-moving stream. When I close my eyes and visualize what makes me peaceful, music enters. I place headphones on my skull, close my eyes, and await the astonishing melody that moves my body down to the last particle. This peacefulness can only be achieved with the help of songwriters that constantly surprise. Obviously, there are few that fit this description, but those that do,occupy a special place in the heart of the music lover. One of those sacred residents is The Haunted Windchimes. Their music instantly calms the restless spirit with a talent that acts as a sedative for a weary mind. Their songwriting melds with the melody of their music and can only be described as spellbinding. Moreover, one seldom witnesses a band where each member contributes to the essence of the sound; achieving loftier heights through rhythmical partnership. The talent that each individual harnessesforms a patchwork that, if one was absent, the entire framework would collapse. This connection and love they share for one another is felt from the concert venue to the studio, and each record pangs the heart with its beauty.
The players in The Haunted Windchimes are comprised of five members:
It's difficult to place one member in the role of leader when discussing the group, but if one was hard pressed to make a choice, it would be Inaiah Lujan. He is a pure poet and his words have a Shamanistic way of healing anyone who is in his presence. His voice captures one's interest, drawing the listener in with an appealing timbre. He has the capability to take his audience on mystical journeys through the mind, sparking images behind the veiled curtain of entranced eyes. He builds on the trance of those in attendance, then crashes the dream state one is feeling with a singing voice that can go from a quiet whisper to a controlled holler; both equally astonishing. It's hard to believe his guitar and the other players can keep up with the creative essence encircling Inaiah Lujan, but they are just as magical. His songwriting is some of the best material on any Windchime record. On the outstanding song,Make it Rain, Lujan sits in a dry field screaming towards a cloudless sky, begging for assistance while scorched sandflows through his trembling fingers. He writes:
"Lord can you hear me; I'm calling your name! Lord if you hear me, then please make it rain!"
The listener is compelled to shout at the heavens to assist the pleading Lujan. The song has the capacity to wreck anyone with its beauty. He draws talent from the earth and exhales some of the best songwriting put on an album in recent years. This songwriting aptitude is further exemplified onDarlin' Love. Lujan has the gift to translate the hurt of lost love so vividly that the speakers seem to cry with each chord struck. He writes:
"I'm down on my knees
I'm beggin' you please
Oh you're the little reason girl, well I can't sleep
I need you so bad
I need you so good
And if you say you hear me
Then it's understood
That I'm needing you
But you're gone
She said, 'I'm leaving you, boy I'm gone.'"
One must listen to the song to understand the breathtaking magnificence of the piece. Lujan may not be the appointed leader of the group, but he certainly leads by example and the others follow suit; each possessing a mastery in their own right.
Desirae Garcia has one of the most stunning voices in music. The amount of soul contained in each syllable she articulates has a shocking impact on the first-time listener. The passion that she feels for the art she creates is evident in the lyrics she composes. She has a knack for writing material that contains a vulnerability directly contrasted by the strength of her vocal power. Her singing has a command over the songs that she writes and one can tell that she has experienced each theme she displays to her audience. She highlights each scar as if it were a mark of admiration, rather than something to be ashamed of. This is her most appealing characteristic: she has the skill to transform any subject into beautiful pieces of artwork. And in that lies redemption. One example of her excellent songwriting is on the heartwarming tune, Your Song. She writes:
"I found my heart in Colorado, so it feels like home, now. Saw his smile; found his shadow, singing 'Take me with you.'"
The amount of love in those lines is palpable. Her songwriting is a gift to any Windchimes release and each note contains strength when she's at the helm. This is evident in the song Find the Door. The song is a warning to an unfaithful lover. She writes:
"Ooh, you've been walking on my name
You've been dancing on my heart
Ooh, you've been playing all your games
You ain'tholdin' all the cards
Go away run and hide
I don't want you anymore
Find a way down the road
Find the door"
The instrumentation of the song gives the impression of hurried anxiety. Match that with Garcia's intense voice, and you have a song that is one of the best Windchimes arrangements.
Excellence runs through the blood of the Lujan family. But where her brother's voice has a booming quality, Chela's has an oracle-like sound, warning of events that may come to pass. This mystical element is translated in the material she writes. She has the proficiency to raise chills as well as the consciousness of the listener. One imagines that she composes her songs in the darkest of hours, giving her pieces an unearthly hue. Her work is further complimented by her banjo, giving each composition a whimsical nature. This feeling is exemplified in the expertly crafted tune, Sea Bride. She writes:
"All my friends are boys
They all think I'm free.
All my friends are boys.
But I don't want to be no boy's wife."
Chela has an innocence that drives the song and makes the subject more believable. It's impossible to listen to the tune without cracking a smile. There is an overwhelming appeal to Chela's material that is hard to immediately identify. Her hypnotic voice has a siren song effect on the listener, luring them closer into the depths of echoed beauty. The pinnacle of this impact can be felt on her greatest songwriting achievement, May. She writes:
"When I come calling, baby I won't let go.
I know she's the one I've been looking for.
Searching the world over and more."
The song is pure poetry and one feels changed after a few short lines. Her work is stunning and she is a strong force within the dynamic of the group.
Every band needs a utility man and Mike Clark is more than qualified for that position. His skill with the fiddle, harmonica, accordion, mandolin, and guitar is awe-inspiring. This talent is matched by an enthralling voice andsongwriting capabilitythat will cause the strongest of jaws to descend after one listen. His contribution to the band compliments each of the other players by underscoring the material with his unbelievable instrumentation. His writing style is more aggressive than others in the Chimes and this edge gives his songs a gritty feel. An example of this would be the song, Out With the Crow. He writes:
"Going to see a man turning water into wine.
Me and my friends will be drunk by suppertime
Up with the dawn walk to the road, gone with the wind
Fly out with the crow."
The song's appeal is the powerful singing accompanied by the mandolin driven melody. Before Mike Clark stayed in the background, his attention drawn to the instrument clutched in his expert hands, but lately he has shown his cleverness as a songwriting contributor. It's evident that he excels at either task. In addition, he injects an element of humor in his songwriting that makes for enjoyable melodies. For example, the outstandingly witty arrangement Say Yer Sorry; co-written by Chela Lujan, is a standout on their latest record Out With the Crow. They take turns shouting their warnings to a double-crossing cheating lover:
"Two good bullets in my dresser drawer
One for you, one for the whore!
Say yer sorry, Say yer Sorry
And I'll put down my gun, boy
And I'll put down my gun"
Normally, the song would have a darker feeling, but the inclusion of Mike's haphazardly planned fiddle playing gives the song levity. Mike Clark is a true musician and the band would suffer without his contribution.
Sean Fanning is the backbone of The Haunted Windchimes. He punctuates their material with his upright bass. He spurs each piece on with his subtle art. Whether he's playing with dexterous fingers or balanced bow, his contribution gives the Windchimes the foundation their material demands. His rhythm is impossible to miss and it adds an extra layer to their striking sound. Sean's playing gives the impression that he is familiar with styles ranging from jazz (Out With the Crow) to steadier classical techniques (May). His sound is projected to the forefront of most Chimes tunes and he is just as important as the other contributors. Some of his best work can be heard on songs like: There She Waits, Searchin' for the Truth, and May. He has potency within the group and it would be impossible to find a better fit to improve on the sound of an already remarkable set of artists.
The Haunted Windchimes are one of those bands that continue to astonish with each listen. Their evolution over the years has given them more attention as they reach for greater heights within the music community. Their work ethic playing live shows constantly gives their already strong connection even stronger bonds, and the result is absolutely breathtaking. They are troubadours in every sense of the word and one can only hope they continue to make astonishing music for many years to come.
Songwriter Series: Volume 2
Songwriting is a characteristic that announces itself from the first spark that begins human life. It imbeds itself into the DNA of those that are fortunate enough to possess the skill. Many have written songs throughout the ages, but few have the talent to stir so much emotion within the listener in a few short lines. These gifted individuals have, at times, received accolades from the public in the form of Gold or Platinum Records; while others may never see above the waterline. The former write songs to appeal to mainstream audiences and to build their bankrolls; the latter write for the love of verse and the need to exorcise their inner demons. There is an even rarer third category. Survival dictates this section of songwriters. They write because it is the sustenance for their life. Without their craft, they would slowly fade away into the ether, never to be seen again. Conor Oberst is of this sort.
Oberst is the lead singer of the indie band, Bright Eyes. His lyrics, as well as his melodies, can haunt, excite, and uplift within the confines of a single song. Talent does not even come close to describe the ability Conor Oberst wields. He is a conjurer of grim tales and the narrator of a world that many fear to visit. His voice captures attention with its brittle power, drawing the listener closer into his chronicle of imaginings.Oberst pens magic in each line, while possessing a tremendous beauty that is bordered in agony. He writes songs to focus the energy tearing against his flesh; struggling to free itself from the dark recesses of songwriting genius. Moreover, with each breath he draws, inspiration enters; with each exhale, magnificence departs. He is a moveable opus, each step taken with intent towards the next composition on the horizon. His entire arsenal is used on the song, At the Bottom of Everything, from the album, I'm Wide Awake, it's Morning. He writes:
We must talk in every telephone
Get eaten off the web
We must rip out all the epilogues in the books that we have read
And in the face of every criminal
Strapped firmly to a chair
We must stare, we must stare, we must stare
We must take all of the medicines too expensive now to sell
Set fire to the preacher who is promising us hell
And in the ear of every anarchist that sleeps but doesn't dream
We must sing, we must sing, we must sing
Deconstructing the climate of society, penning protest in verse. The song is a product of a master songwriter. His depths of talent go unnoticed by the mainstream, but his followers are captivated by his extraordinary abilities to tell a tale.
Conor Oberst draws from his pool of endless talent each time he puts pen to parchment. The emotion bleeds into the ink, giving a life-force to each composition. He is a mad scientist, creating beautiful monstrosities, unleashed on the populous that cause cheerful voices to be raised, instead of torches.This wealth of talent he possesses comes across as a screaming arrangement as on the song, The Calendar Hung Itself, or a more subtle approach like, Something Vague, both songs appear on the album, Fevers and Mirrors, and the latter shows Oberst's gift in each line. He writes:
There's a dream in my brain that just won't go away.
It's been stuck there since it came a few nights ago
And I'm standing on a bridge in the town where I lived
As a kid with my mom and my brothers.
And then the bridge disappears and I'm standing on air
With nothing holding me.
And I hang like a star, fucking glow in the dark,
For all those starving eyes to see,
Like the ones we've wished on.
But now I'm confused. Is this death really you?
And do these dreams have any meaning?
No. No, I think it's more like a ghost that's been following us both.
Something vague that we're not seeing,
Something more like a feeling.
No matter his approach, his writing conveys a brilliance that is impossible to ignore. The control he commands of the written word illustrates a wisdom that doesn't present itself in songwriters his age. From the first note, to the last refrain, Oberst dwells on a higher plane; almost as if his music is created in a trance-like state, where he transcends the conventional definitions of aptitude.
Conor Oberst is a songwriter that always surprises and never disappoints. The power of his words forces audiences to listen; to take notice. Many may not know much about this musician, but once acquainted the fascination remains rooted in the knowledge that the sound escaping the speaker is rarely heard. This exceptional music combined with poetic lyrics creates a formula for an amazing experience. Take the time to listen to Bright Eyes and you will understand the brilliance of Conor Oberst.
Songwriter Series: Volume 1
Gritty, metallic, and coarse are a few adjectives that come to mind when describing the first composer in my new series of articles focusing on the craft of songwriting. His name alone causes a shiver to construct a steel rod in your spine; but when your ears catch a few notes of his music, that is when fear sinks its teeth into you. Meet Tom Waits. From the first note, I was hooked. It felt almost dirty or taboo to listen to his music because there is nothing like it. With so many strange elements at work in each tune, it’s easy to miss aspects of the song that make his music amazing. His narratives give us characters that don’t deserve redemption and haven’t seen hope in some time. Tom Waits is a master of his craft and if you haven’t heard his albums, you haven’t heard music.
There are so many pieces that make Tom Waits, in my opinion, the most amazing musician living today, but his writing elevates him to the upper echelon of his profession. His voice drives us deeper into the muck and we start to doubt that we’ll make it out of this melody alive. He sculpts hellish worlds with a few strokes of his pen and dares the observer to follow the words into the mind of a true genius. Once entrenched, what seemed at first glance as uncomfortable, transforms into beautiful hymns that leave you awestruck. His songs sound very unusual at first, but given enough time, the piece brings you in close and keeps you warm within its grip.
His songs are written in such a way that it’s impossible not to love everything that he does. For example, in his song, Dirt in the Ground, he writes:
Now the killer was smiling
With nerves made of stone
He climbed the stairs
And the gallows groaned
And the people’s hearts were pounding
They were throbbing, they were red
As he swung out over the crowd
I heard the hangman said
We’re all gonna be
Just dirt in the ground
There is poetry in every line. He sings the story in a muted falsetto that drives the point home: no matter our lot in life, killer or spectator, we will all die. His talent seeps from every pause, his intensity dwells in each ragged breath. One wonders what dark place his talent springs from. Assisting the story are piano, saxophone, bass and a lone foot tap. This makes the song much more masterful and one of my favorite pieces of music ever put on record.
Dark themes are the leading role in many of Waits’ tales, but each verse is constructed in such a way that makes the macabre more attractive; less horrifying. Only a proficient songwriter can achieve this. Listening to his songs, you almost feel that he’s smiling through his insanity and there is no choice but to smile with him; he’s that good. There is a power in every Tom Waits song that cannot be explained unless you press play. He is one of those poets that once you experience, you’re never the same and the body shudders at the thought of his absence. Another example of his superior word choice appear in Misery is the River of the World from Blood Money. He shouts:
God builds a church
The devil builds a chapel
Like the thistles that are growing
’round the trunk of a tree
All the good in the world
You can put inside a thimble
And still have room for you and me
If there’s one thing you can say
There’s nothing kind about man
You can drive out nature with a pitch fork
But it always comes roaring back again
Chaos penned in poetic verse. Under the carnival-like music and gruff vocals lies an undeniable truth: if human nature keeps on the path to destruction, darkness resides at the end.
Tom Waits is a master songwriter and his words have a power that changes the experience of music for anyone that listens. He is not afraid to explore the darker regions of the human psyche. He returns, a solitary figure cutting an inky profile into the horizon; pen clutched in a blood-coated fist, his lonesome whistle hangs heavy in the air. Those that cross his path are forever changed because Tom Waits doesn’t live on record; he injects himself under your skin and possesses your soul.