Speaking of Great Music

Apropos Alex Ross’s definition of great music that we’ve been discussing over here (DBM and his readers take up the issue here as well), I tend to take a Potter Stewart approach to these sorts of questions: I know it when I see/hear/encounter it.

I spent much of a recent afternoon listening to a new southern gospel album (not yet released, so not to be named … I’m nothing if not loyal to sources and contacts, kids) and much of the time I found myself thinking, this might work quite well, I’m looking forward to it … but I’ll have to hear it live.

Partly, I think this is the southern gospel in me talking. SG is above averagely a style of music best served live and in person, the better to reach deep down into the soul of the matter. Which is to say, if I think about all the examples of great music in southern gospel, my mind goes ten times out of eleven to live music, much of it not even live recordings but experiences I can remember as transporting. There’s something that isn’t in the song if/when it is recorded, sometimes even when it’s recorded live.

This, as opposed to say, the music typified by someone like Justin Bieber, who’s not bad for 45 minutes on the elliptical but in live concert I imagine to come off as mildly ridiculous … like a Hollister model’s body has been colonized by an oversexed hyper-macho hip-hop mogul … oh wait

I also suspect, though, this pining away for the immediacy and urgent warmbloodedness of live music may be a more general and pervasive effect of digital culture on musical tastes. There’s just so much slick, canned, preprogrammed and perfectly tuned music out there thanks to the internet and digital technology (this is more and more true even with live albums these days, what with all the overdubbing after the fact, which tends to suck some of the warts-and-all life out of the thing and account for why live albums can fail to capture a group’s best side). And I think this is a big reason why for some time now, I’ve found myself taking the attitude toward most studio recordings that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Or maybe it’s just one to many Rascall Flatts and Taylor Swiftings.

Which brings me to Adele. A friend of mine turned our house on to Adele a few years ago and she’s been the anchor for a Pandora station for several years around here. But there’s Adele on the radio … and then there’s this:

Here phrasing, her sense of time … her presence. It’s just astonishing, exquisite. A friend of mine thinks she reminds him of a young Wynona, which I can see, and I also think that this clip could suggest to someone like Kim Hopper how a slightly - ok, considerably - less showboaty stage presence could enhance one’s native vocal abilities and onstage charisma.

Of course, I’m waiting to find out any moment now that this is just some really great lip-sync job, but I hope not. In the meantime, at any rate, I’ll stow this away as an example for the next time someone asks me to define what great music is … to me at least … and until the next gospel song sweeps me off my feet.

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  1. Hector Luna wrote:

    The first time I heard her live, 3 or so years ago…I was blown away. She had a great voice, sure. But she possesses something else, specifically unique. Some weird aurora of smoothly delivered style and presence. There are many good vocalists in sg, but the number is minimal to nil in regards to those who could duplicate something like that. And you’re right, her sense of time is virtually impeccable.

  2. jane wrote:

    Oh please….. I went to you tube and couldn’t stand listening for more than 30 seconds. I would much rather listen to Lauren Talley any day! She has a great voice, and sings about something worth listening to.

  3. rr wrote:

    Here’s some phrasing and presentation that fascinates me:


  4. Irishlad wrote:

    Here’s one for ya;why generally speaking do SDA quartets such as The Omega Qt and The King’s Heralds sound so much more polished and cultured than the typical Sg quartet?

  5. sam wrote:

    Has anyone heard The Quebe Sisters Band?

  6. Irishlad wrote:

    Averyfinexample of great music is Boz Scaggs “look what you do to me “on youtube.

  7. Irishlad wrote:

    #5 The Andrews sisters with fiddles :)

  8. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Adele is excellent in terms of the understated way she delivers a song, both visually and aurally.

    I’m not crazy about her tones, though. On the soft sections, she sounds like she’s been puffing Marlboros, and on the loud bits, she’s too brassy for my taste.

    I would definitely like to hear some of our Southern Gospel divas sing in this manner. Adele is good, but Taranda Greene would be awesome singing this style.

  9. Drumming Drew wrote:

    Great music here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3tXYsIX2NI&feature=youtube_gdata_playe.

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