I've been listening to some Bill Monroe recordings lately. In case you don't know, Bill Monroe was one of the founders of 'bluegrass' style. In fact, the style is named after his band, "Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys". In particular, I'm enjoying
I'm not sure I can explain what appeals to me about roots and folk music. I work in commercial theatre music. I grew up on classical music and 60's rock. But there's something about Taj Mahal, Janis Ian, Patty Griffin and now Bill Monroe that speaks to me. I'm aware of the musical simplicity - but that doesn't get in my way. There's a sense of truthfulness (or 'truthiness' as Stephen Colbert says) that makes it land in some way. In my daily life, I certainly don't share the blues experience - but the blues take me somewhere different than Sondheim, Mahler and Bach.
Someone recently knocked me for wanting to listen more to WFUV (a folk and folk-rock station) than WFMU (a wonderfully eclectic college station that plays anything.) This person knocked WFUV for playing 'that folky shit'. But as I thought about it, I realized that i was more interested in music based on song structures than music based on grooves and oddity. There's plenty of great stuff on WFMU, and plenty that I don't like on WFUV. But I prefer to hear the struggles of song writers to that of musicians trying to shock or surprise me with novelty. (Old Fuddy Dud Alert - here it comes ...) And a lot of music today is built on groove and words - melody and harmony taking a back seat. That doesn't work for me in any kind of music.
But WHY has that occurred? I know rap and hip-hop were cultural developments as well as musical ones ... but why the strong move towards groove over everything else? And why the persistence of that tendency for a few decades now? We don't seem to be dancing as much as we used to (that could be my age speaking) - so the predominance of groove doesn't seem to be a dance thing. Yes, words that are done in a rap style have a different approach to communication than sung lyrics. But despite the content being so direct, the 'tonal' context seems so limited after a while - it's always the same voice, the same inflection.
This is way off what I wanted to talk about - the appeal of roots music. But maybe for others, the spoken word has that simple directness that I'm finding in roots music.
Or maybe what I hear in hip-hop as a lack of musical gesture is what my father heard when we were playing Jimi Hendrix records in the 60's - for him maybe Hendrix was a lack of organized musical structure and indulgent soloing.
But what is disturbing to me is not the music I don't like ... but the music that seems void of content - music where there's not enough content to hang my displeasure on.