Local Rhythms – Rick Rubin May Save The Music Business

rickrubin.jpgThere might be hope yet for the record business – and I’m talking about the folks who sell the music, not the ones who create it.

As a producer, Rick Rubin has made and re-made many performers. He practically invented commercial hip-hop, launched the Red Hot Chili Peppers to stardom, and introduced Johnny Cash to a new generation of fans.

He’s a music man, through and through.

Now he’s running Columbia Records, the label that discovered and built artists like Dylan, Springsteen and Billy Joel. But they’ve strayed from what matters.

“So many of the decisions at these companies are not about the music,” Rubin told the New York Times last weekend. “They are shortsighted and desperate.”

At Columbia, he aims to change that.

“What’s important now is to find music that’s timeless,” he said, speaking to the hearts of true fans everywhere. “I still believe that if an artist gains the belief of the listener, then anything is possible.”

Rubin also thinks that the best route to profitability is making lots of music available.

He likes the subscription model, which he envisions as “a virtual library … accessible from your car, from your cell phone, from your computer, from your television – anywhere.”

“The service can have demos, bootlegs, concerts, whatever context the artist wants to put out.”

Do that, he says, and the industry will grow exponentially.

I’m glad someone still thinks artists are capable of good decisions. Don’t get me wrong, Rubin’s ears are legendary, and he’s not afraid to share his opinion. He’s gotten rich being a straight shooter in the studio, where he’s sent more than a few performers back to the drawing board.

But he’s a guru, not a general. Unlike his new corporate bosses, he knows it’s the music that matters.

“I’m not sure they realize that they are selling art,” he says of the label. “Right now they could be selling any product.”

It may be too late, though. They may only succeed, he says, in becoming “the best dinosaur.”

Whatever happens, Rubin’s right about one thing. “Too many people make and love music for it to ever die,” he says. “It will never be over. The music will outlast us all.”

Rick Rubin is the kind of lunatic I want running the asylum.

All right, what timelessness lies ahead this weekend?

Thursday: Carr, Merrill & Rose, Burdick’s – Their gourmet chocolates are popular with movie stars and glitterati around the world; Burdick’s dining room is a local treasure. On the first Thursday of every month, the Walpole landmark adds smooth jazz to their tasty mix, beginning at 6. Tonight Jesse Carr sings and plays the saxophone, backed by Bob Merrill on piano and Genevieve Rose on bass.

Friday: Al Alessi, Sophie & Zeke’s – Typically the A-Man duets with Bill Wightman, but tonight he goes solo with guitar and harmonica. Al’s voice is something of a local legend; he interprets everyone from Hoagie Carmichael to Van Morrison with natural, effortless savoir faire. He’s not a half-bad guitarist, either, though he might chuckle to hear me say that (it’s true).

Saturday: George Jones/Pam Tillis, Vermont State Fair – The fairgrounds in Rutland is the place to be for country music fans this weekend, with relative newcomer Chris Cagle performing Friday. Saturday it’s Jones, who’s had his ups and downs over a long career, but is still the gold standard for crooners. Opener Pam Tillis (the daughter of legendary C&W star Mel) is worth the price of a ticket all by herself.

Sunday: Fiddlers on the White River Flyer, White River Junction – This is a big weekend for trains in WRJ, with Saturday’s “Glory Days of the Railroad” celebration, featuring the Don Campbell Trio, the Stockwell Brothers and jazz from Gerry Grimo, along with a few opportunities to ride the train to Norwich. Sunday, the White River Flyer travels round trip to Bradford, with musical accompaniment from some fine local fiddlers.The journey commences at 11:30.

Tuesday: Nick Motil, New England College – College has resumed, and with it the frequent stops of up and coming talent at the Charter Coffee House in Henniker. Motil’s music is a tasty David Gray/Bob Dylan cocktail; he’s enjoyed success as an opening act for the likes of Jason Mraz, Duncan Sheik and others. Selling thousands of CDs at his shows, the singer/songwriter is one of the many DIY success stories conspiring to make the big labels obsolete.

Wednesday: Sonya Kitchell, Iron Horse – She makes a pretty convincing claim for the title of “whiz kid” – voice lessons at 7, jazz club bum at 9, and touring musician as a teenager. Of course, none of this would matter were it not for the fact that Sonya Kitchell delivers the goods, with a voice somewhere between Janis Joplin and Diana Krall. Musically, she can go either way, jazzy minx or balls-out rocker.