The Grammies, and being in the company of monsters.

Last night was the first time in years that I watched (at least much of) the Grammy Awards. It was the first time I’ve ever watched an awards show while being on Facebook so I got to see immediate response from my “friends”. Here are some random thoughts:

I heard very little Autotune, and I can hear it in places most people don’t (due to my studio production work). It wasn’t used at all as an effect, at least from what I heard. It’s interesting to look at the trajectory of Autotune: it started out as a stealth studio tool to pitch correct a less than perfect performance from real singers, then it “progressed” to a tool to make “singers” out of people who can’t sing, then it became an effect to make people sound like machines. Most singers aren’t pitch perfect 100% of the time (Yolanda Adams and Streisand make it look easy), and I guess that the producers finally realized that it was better to have people sound like human beings.

After Christina Aguilar’s painful (to me anyway) rendition of our national anthem at the Superbowl, you’d think she’d reign it in a little but the girl just can’t contain herself. Sing the song, girl. I’m all for embellishments when they’re what the artist is naturally hearing (like Charlie Parker or Mariah Carey or Fantasia Barrino) but these vocal contortions she puts on do nothing for the music because she’s not hearing or feeling them. She puts them on like a hipster in some funky hat, but it’s just a hat.

Watching Rhianna’s performance was like being in a strip club; sorry, but a stripper with a microphone is not a singer. Not that I mind a little eye candy but it’s got to be part of the larger package. I think a lot of people confuse sexual attraction with talent or vision or leadership. (Do you think that if┬áSarah Palin looked like Janet Reno anybody would be talking about her?). A lot of people I know (musicians in their 40’s) were ripping on Lady Gaga, saying that she’s a big Madonna ripoff, like Madonna needs defenders, but they’re way off-base. Sure, they’re both dealing with pop/club/dance music, but where Madonna was really a producer’s product until well into her career, and marketed herself by becoming a bigger and bigger slut Gaga is much more than T&A and a funky beat. Not only is she a really good singer and pianist, but the music behind the vocals is more complex and she puts forth an image that redefines sexy as creative and imaginative (and humorous).

Last Saturday I went to the Midwest Gypsy Swing Festival in Madison. I used to play in Harmonious Wail, the band that puts this on, and I was looking forward to hearing Gonzalo Bergara and Frank Vignola, two monster guitarists of international reputation (BTW, Vignola played for Madonna at one time). It was a great concert and the two of them played together (for the first time ever) for the last few tunes of Vignola’s set. I got to meet these guys, all really nice and down to earth people, just really into music. Later in the evening, there was an impromptu jam in the dressing room and I even sat in and played a bunch of tunes with them. It broke up around 2:30 am mainly because Frank and Vinny Raniolo (Frank’s guitarist) had to catch a flight and we had to get back to Milwaukee for Sunday commitments, but I think everybody could have played til dawn.

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