Local Rhythms – Will They Ever Learn?

shotinfoot1.jpgIt’s been an up-and-down week for the music business. Rhapsody recently merged with Urge, the MTV-sponsored download outlet that never did get a whole lot of traction. This week, the newly launched site began selling unprotected MP3 songs, which play on iPods, music phones – everything.

Even better, and unlike iTunes, their MP3s cost the same (89 cents each) as encrypted songs.

That’s good.

Now, on to the bad and the ugly…

Did you see the MTV Video Music Awards this weekend? After suffering through Britney’s train wreck of a set (intervention, anybody?), Alicia Keys’ questionable fashion sense, and a nauseating wave of forgettable performances, I think Congress should pass legislation forcing the “M” from the network’s name.

Finally, there’s (yet again) news of the industry’s sinister side.

A perk of doing a column like Local Rhythms, apart from the obvious fame and fortune (ha!), is the free music. Many writers frequently receive new discs, but lately they’re arriving with some nasty strings attached.

Things got scary for Erik Davis recently, when a pre-release CD from Beirut (an über-cool band I’ve never heard of) ended up in a pile, destined for his local thrift store.

Happens all the time – poor critics need beer money too. But the disc had a digital watermark – with Davis’s personal information – embedded in it.

An astute hipster snagged the unreleased record, and uploaded it to the Internet.

Each song was stamped with Erik Davis’s name. Almost immediately, he began receiving threatening phone calls. Fortunately, he was able to make peace with the label. But the gist of his story is that other record companies, particularly the biggies like WMG and Sony, aren’t playing so nice.

The new Mark Knopfler record, for example, is both watermarked and shrink wrapped with threatening language. This “Unique Identifier,” the packaging snarls, “allows Us to Identify the Intended Recipient (You) as the Source of Any Unauthorized Copies.”

I understand their compulsion to control the flow – sort of. I mean, what’s so sacred about releasing music on Tuesdays? What’s the harm in a little early buzz?

But baiting critics, music’s best friends, makes no sense at all. It’s crazy – if the radio won’t play new music, who else will spread the word?

The record business isn’t dying – it’s killing itself. Stick to the clubs – to wit:

Thursday: Michael Pickett, Salt Hill Pub – As a long-time friend of live music, Salt Hill occasionally attracts some amazing talent via word of mouth. Pickett is one such artist, a Juno-nominated Canadian bluesman with a gritty, authentic sound. Like many in the genre, he’s best when interpreting the work of others, but oh, with such twist! Woody Guthrie, as passed through the hands of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, for example. Free music doesn’t get any better.

Friday: Jeffrey Foucault, Hooker-Dunham (Brattleboro) – I’ve long heralded the talents of this amazing singer-songwriter. “Northbound 35” is one of a handful of songs I’d take to a desert island, and his work with Redbird is also sublime. What makes this show special is the inclusion of Chris O’Brien on the bill, a amazing tunesmith we’ll be hearing more of. In fact, he’ll be doing his own showcase at Boccelli’s October 12.

Saturday: Irene Kelley, Claremont Opera House – Nashville is a songwriter’s town, and there aren’t many singers who could get by without a steady supply of lyrics from the likes of Kelley – Trisha Yearwood, Alan Jackson, Pat Green and Little Big Town, to name but a few. But the clincher is the Kelley has quite the honey throat herself, and a knockout collection of true country music, is proof positive – a great kickoff to the local opera house season.

Sunday: Thomas Dolby and the Mafia Jazz Horns, Iron Horse – Though “She Blinded Me With Science” seemingly relegated him to the ranks of the one hit wonders, Dolby’s persevered beyond the MTV years – gratefully, considering what a mess they’ve become. Tonight, he’ll re-work some of his old songs and introduce some new ones, accompanied by a horn section that sits somewhere between bossa nova and Moby electronica – or Dolby electronica, to give old school credit where it’s due.

Tuesday: Acoustic Coalition, Firestones – A cool jam session that moves from club to club but spends a lot of time at this Quechee restaurant. It’s a coalition in the truest sense of the word, always on the lookout for new players looking to dip their toes in new collaborative waters.

Wednesday: Larry Dougher, Elixir – We begin and end with blues this week. Dougher typically plays with his rollicking three-piece band, but tonight it’s solo acoustic at White River Junction’s new home to refined small plate dining. There’s music pretty much every night of the week at Elixir – definitely worthy of our support.

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