I don’t know what good music is, but I know it when I hear it.

“What kind of music do you like?”  A friend asks me that very simple question.  I really can’t answer it directly. My standby answer is that I have eclectic tastes. That’s a cop-out for “help, I’m hopelessly confused.”

To paraphrase  Justice Potter Stewart and his 1964 comment on pornography , “I don’t know what good music is, but I know it when I hear it.”

So I’ll ask you, the reader. What artists or songs are on your playlist(s)?  I looked at mine and found Liszt and Lady Gaga, Mozart and the Klezmatics, the Decemberists and Neil Young,…..

I wondered about my musical taste or lack thereof and what these diverse artists had in common. 

A quick back story and digression: This is NOT the post I started to write. I am not a multi-tasker. I am barely a single-tasker. (Just ask my wife.) When I write I always have music playing. I choose innocuous piano background music so I am not distracted. My plain vanilla piano background ended and Overflown by Return to Normal  began to play. I didn’t really notice because I was thinking deep thoughts. (LOL)  Gradually my brilliant insights into whatever I was writing were peppered with images that had nothing to do with my subject. Hence, this rambling post evolved.

My conclusion is that each piece of music paints a picture in my mind. The picture can take shape from the melody, the beat, the lyrics or a combination. I am musically handicapped, if you couldn’t tell from the previous sentence. I know squat about the technicalities. I am like the proverbial hillbilly who falls off the turnip truck and is found  browsing the isles of the Louvre. I have no clue how the great artists may have painted their masterpieces but it doesn’t limit my enjoyment. I may be a hick, but I know a purty picture when I see it!

OVERFLOWN by Return to Normal

"Boy, them songs sure is purty!" Americana and New Folk by Return to Normal. Click the cover to take a listen.

Return to Normal is featured on my Media page and fits this description well. Whenever one of the songs pops up in my shuffling iPod, a canvas starts to take shape. (No, I’m not selling it, it’s my example!)

I was trying to describe its genre and had to go to their website to plagiarise the description. RTN says they are “are firmly in the New Folk/Americana genre” . OK, great. I have no idea what that means. See what I mean… turnip truck time.  Here’s my description: “Boy, them songs sure is purty!”

The music stands on its own but the lyrics of each song tell a story. The lyrics (in my Forest Gump-like opinion) are each a poem and a story.

In “Joe Casey” we hear the story of an outsider artist who worked days in the Studebaker plant but then spent his evenings at home with his family painting canvases depicting, from memory, his younger years hunting and fishing in the Missouri Ozarks.

“The Lincoln Highway Song” conjures the mirages, and perhaps the chimeras, of a boring drive on a hot midsummer day down the flat and tired pavement of America’s oldest transcontinental road.

“Beehunter” travels back 60,000 years to the African bush as a man called Oolat discovers that by following a honey-guide bird he can unlock the door to nature’s candy store.

Nearer to Return to Normal’s home in North Judson, Indiana, much nearer, we meet a girl named Chaos and her boyfriend Sin, as they ignore the fruit of the tree of knowledge and instead indulge themselves in a “Peppermint Garden”.

The devastation of the April 11, 1965 tornadoes is recalled, Joseph Campbell style, in “Palm Sunday”. Then there’s the frustrated wanderlust of a boy who grew up on the wrong side of the clouds in “Ode to the Overflown”.

What really stands out for me is the origins of Return to Normal.

I knew it was a small operation and so I asked them how the album was made. Here’s their reply.

Released on their own Quality Hill label, R2N (that’s Marty and Corinne Lucas, it’s okay, they’re married) made Overflown as a new kind of independent artistic production. The sole goal was making the best new folk record they could make, with utter disregard for commercial realities. Recorded entirely in their home over a 13 month period, and mastered by Jon Huxstable in Ashford Britain, using transatlantic Internet file transfers, the project was done on a tiny budget. Dirk Shorter joins them on bass. Old school folk musicians will be pleased that no sequences, loops or other computerized performances were used. On the other hand, elements of electronica, psychedelia and dream pop add spice to the northern, almost Canadian, folk feel. Audiophiles will appreciate the care and precision that has been invested throughout the recording process.

While they are firmly in the New Folk/Americana genre, Return to Normal isn’t derivative of anybody in particular. Avid and omnivorous ‘song-geeks’, they draw from a wide range of influences. Current artists that you might want to mix them in with include: the Decemberists, Iron and Wine, Clem Snide, Great Lake Swimmers, the Weepies and Beck. If you’re a bit older, you might want to play them alongside Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss, early Dylan, or perhaps even Bruce Springsteen in his quieter moods.

That’s their long winded explanation. I just think it’s purty.


15 comments on “I don’t know what good music is, but I know it when I hear it.

  1. You reminded me I need to hear more music. As a fellow musically handicapped I just know what I like when I hear it. I have the problem I don’t even know what to buy because I don’t even know the artist name or the song.

    • I know that feeling. I’m not even sure who the artist is on my own playlist. That’s how this post started. I have so many individual songs I’ve bought just because I liked one thing. It’s weird but never boring. Thanks for the comment.

  2. “What kind of music do you like?” when there is absolutely so much to love? Today, one track from Bob Dylan’s Highway 61, followed later in the day by Neil Young’s Going Back almost had me crying in my cups and I don’t know why! As for those crazy Klezmatics, who else could come with the album, “Rhythm and Jews”? Look fwd to exploring RTN! (as I write Marcus and Michele Bachmann are dancing on TV for the nth time – love to know their playlist!)

  3. Diane Campbell July 15, 2011 at 10:00 p.m.
    As a fan of Corinne & Marty Lucas, I welcome you! I would suggest you give a listen to Corinne’s rendition of “High and Dry” as well as “Crazy”. The lady can SING! She sends me wandering down a lovely, melancholy memory lane on a solitary Friday night. Tonight the moon is full – I’d like to dance. If Return to Normal (Corinne & Marty) were playing somewhere close by – I’d love to go. Instead, I’m singing along in my kitchen while I load the dishwasher. Music to stay up late and remember by!

  4. Well done, very enjoyable read. My unscientific opinion is that we like music that emotionally anchors us to something — a memory, a feeling, a dream. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me personally — the only way that I can justify some of the dreck that I love.

  5. I’m definitely one of these “eclectic tastes” people. But I’m not confused. I’ve noticed that while I meander from country, classical and jazz to R&B, classic 80’s rock and alternative music, they all share the common denominator of having a characteristic that touches me in some way. For my shuffle, I look for songs in various genres that have an intense rhythm; and for my writing (on those occasions when I listen to music while I’m writing) I look for soft and smooth melodies – no lyrics. Either way, music definitely provides a background to whatever part of my life that I’m living at the moment.

    • How do you manage to listen to anything at all with all of the things you do? Love your blog(s) and outlook on life. Thanks for stopping in and I look forward to learning from you.

      • 🙂 ….. Music keeps me motivated to get my butt up and moving to do all those things! 🙂
        Thank YOU for connecting back – can’t wait to read more of your thoughts.

  6. I found what you had to say very insightful. I listen to music that captures my feeling of nostalgia especially for days of my youth. But I also love to listen to songs that present a picture usually of something happy or upbeat. I have never been a fan of rap but do find some of it also intersting. The more I teach 8th graders the more I find myself having to listen to something a little more modern just to have a clue what they are talking about but I do force them to listen to “my” collection while they are in my class. Music can make you wistful for another time or just make you smile. With my new car I get 3 months of sirius radio – – even with all those stations I still find listening to 50s, 60s, and 70s to the most enjoyable. As for listening to Marty and Corrine – wow. I’m so impressed with their talent!

    • Thanks Mary Ann,
      I think every generation gravitates to the music they grew up with. I know I end up listening to a lot of the same music that you do. But, I love finding new groups that open my mind up a little bit. Marty and Corinne fall into that category. It’s a little different and a lot enjoyable.

  7. My Current playlist:
    Losing my religion (R.E.M.)
    Estranged (GnR)
    Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)
    Snowblind (Black Sabbath)
    Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd)
    Tomorrow’s Dream (Black Sabbath)
    Take my hand (Dido)
    Lose Yourself (Eminem)

    The playlist keeps on changing, but any given point of time, you can understand my state of mind just by looking at the songs I’m listening to ( http://highoncoffee.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/whats-on-my-playlist/ ).

    I think that must be the case with almost everybody.

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