booker t. : potato hole : native new yorker

booker t potato hole grant wentzel

The other day I read that Booker’s got a brand new bag.  So with a good-to-see-you-again grin, I picked up the pieces and revisited his last album, the Neil Young’d and DBT’d joint Potato Hole.  Ah, good stuff.

After a spin, I thought it would make a fine jam-a-long soundtrack, only fitting as “Green Onions” was one of the first tunes I tried to figure out when my second-hand, knock-off Strat and Cry-Baby were shiny new teenage treasures.

Picking out a few of the licks, I wondered what a cover would sound like.

Copping the tone seemed easy enough.  Neil’s never been a fleet-fingered picker.  (But on this one, who’s who?  The Drive By Truckers have always had some Southern Man grit about them, and the skinny is that Booker plays a mean-n-loose guitar too, though he usually saddles up to the B3 before the red light blinks.)  After a few dozen experiments, I realized that the only thing Neil and I have in common is that we can’t help but sound like ourselves. (A quality I still prize in a musician, despite its application to Kenny G.)

With the new Hot Sauce Committee on the brain, I sliced up some beats from the Monkee’s and added some fuzzy leads, landing sonically in the mid 90’s back when Primal Scream tried to sound American and the Soup Dragons wrestled Kula Shaker for the alt-rock bronze.

Not such a bad place to hang on a summer’s day.

my take on native new yorker

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free energy : stuck on nothing : bang pop

Some alternate titles to this post would include:

“It Takes A Village to Kill a Pop Song”
“Death By 50 Tracks”
Or to quote Tim Gunn, “A Tortured Mess.”

(But maybe I made it work?)

Like a new friend who feels like an old pal, Free Energy had me at one listen.  The tunes and technique sat in that nice comfy zone between just right and endearingly flawed.  They were fun and new, but familiar too.  Then Rocs put her slender finger of perception on the crux of it:  “They sound like you guys.”

By “you guys”, she was referring to my old pop-rock combo and our quixotic quest to meld 30 years of rock ‘n roll into 3 minutes of aural bliss.  She was on to something, especially when one cocks an ear to the solid but not exactly, eh, earth-quaking guitar figures.

Anyhoo, from a recording point of view, I thought this would be a darn easy assignment.  So I looked up a few tabs and learned a few of the licks and dove right into laying down some takes.  But something wasn’t right.

I should have know better.  You can’t build garage-rock with a computer.  You’ve got to let it grow like a seizable crop.  It’s got to be an all-organic affair nurtured in a damp basement or a drafty attic.  Some out-of-the-way place where you can wood-shed your way to air-wave victory.

To rock this way, some bunch of “you guys” have to get together and let a little alchemy overtake the sum of your parts.  It might take a few years or it might gel in just one night, but a lone wolf in a one-man digital den won’t make the cut.  The results will be the opposite of my intentions, but there’s some nice moments in there, so what the heck…

my take on bang pop

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the xx : vcr

the xx grant wentzel

It started as the fallback safety-soundtrack:  Always at the ready for dinner parties of mixed company, late nights chasing deadlines, filling cracks in conversations, drowning out things that go bump in the night.  But after a hundred spins or so, sketches of stories started night-swimming out of the echoes.  Then they beached themselves in my brain.

Such is the case with “VCR”.  There’s not much to it. It’s just another night with you and me, speculating superstars couched by the TV.

And that’s alright.  And everything’s going to be OK.

Because you… you just know.

You just do.

my take on vcr

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girls : album : lust for life

You might notice that since my announcement of entering the brave world of home recording (like it takes a lot of cojones to perform for your swingline and rolodex…) I haven’t posted a thing.

It’s not for lack of trying.  I’ve butchered some tunes, neutered some others, and have an uncanny ability to turn any song into a irony-free lounge track.  (Coming soon to a Holiday Inn near you!) I never knew how icky a drum loop and a synthesizer could sound in the wrong hands.  Pure saccharine, fondued in cheese.

That being said, I really like how this one turned out.  So far it’s the only thing that I’ve produced during this recording experiment that has lived up to my low hopes.  Your opinion may differ, but I dare you to prove me wrong.

Lust For Life has it all:  Gender bending, daddy issues, pizza and a bottle of wine.  (I can’t hear the second verse without smelling a garlic-buttered Hound-Dogs and a stinky-red Two-Buck Chuck.)  It’s just crazy, totally mad.  A west-coast escape I’d like to take.  A brand new start!  In love with you…

my take on lust for life

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(btw, NSFW and all that.)

New Directions

grant wentzel new directions

I’ve been off on a new project, the convergence of three things:

Number Uno:  My most reliable source of blog content — and deepest font of blessedly (self)righteous opinion — is the record review.  However, I know a lot other guys that already do that, and do so better than me.  Some of them even get paid.  Fellas, it’s better left in your professional hands.

Number Dos:  I gotta cut some new chops.  I once had a band that kept me on my musical toes, or at least propped up, consistently.  We aspired to a “monkeys on crack” level of showmanship, which meant knowing the songs so well that you can play while launching off the drum riser and dodging another crushed can of PBR.  Now I play mostly at church.  This is a very fine thing to do, and something I really enjoy.   However, the lazy in me finds a holy host of excuses to fall back on the same fills and sonic variations.  I don’t push myself like I used to, but it is easier on the knees.

Number The Tré:  I love recording.  The blinking beacon of the red record button continues to call, though I have no business getting my sticky fingers anywhere near it.  But like anything, the only way to get better is to practice.  Furthermore, nothing illuminates the flaws in your performance like a nice crispy playback.  You gotta play tight or it will never sound right.  (Unless you want to spend the rest of the day tweaking away via software, but where’s the joy in that?)  Recording forces me to dig in and really listen to what’s going on and what I’m doing wrong.

So here’s the plan:  Instead of stitching my thread-bare opinions to the tails of better-said observations, I’ll be firing up the amps and covering something from whatever I happen to be digging on.   Hopefully, I’ll be learning something in the process.  So strap on the headphones and warm up the hi-fi:  You might enjoy it too!

Another Ditty: Highway 29

grant wentzel highway 29

I’m still enjoying the recording toys and popped this together last night.

Why record it? To try out two things:  1) drum loops  & 2) midi keys.  Why post it to the internet?  Well, if an mp3 falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it…  What’s it all about?  Interstate 29 runs through Sioux Falls and takes you South.   Need I say more?

New Toys for Tunage

As you may have noticed, Christmas came again this year. Every time jolly old St. Nick makes his rounds, I feel the urge to justify a little strummable splurge.  But it’s getting harder. Not that I have any sort of exceptional collection of equipment, but I’ve got the bases covered with a stack of useful, if b-level, gear.  Any more and moth and rust will corrupt it all faster than I can.  So this year it came down to this little 20-dollar wonder:  The Cut-Capo.

So far I’ve found it useful for two things:  Opening up alternate (and somewhat simplified) fingerings to give the old folk-chord voicings a new flair.  And for rolling picking patterns up-and-down the neck, which sonically nicks Mr. Drake and makes me want to grow my hair long a take a ride on the free love freeway, preferably in the UK, in an Aston Martin.

Here’s a half-written experiment of the above. It started sort of Nick Drake, took a lyrical turn south, but came back around with a little Eno-y electric.  I haven’t attempted to put notes and words together for the better part of 10 years, so I consider anything at all to be a success.  Just give me a chorus and a dose of the auto-tune and soon we’ll soon be making rock-and-roll history!

Proof Of Concept Two: Heil Herr Rudolf

Grant Wentzel Rudolf

While finding my way back to the comforting camaraderie of the Island Of Misfit Toys, I recorded this.  It’s got the kids and everything.   Grandma’s gonna love it, but I’m still a few miles away from having a handle on the details of eq’ing, mixing, mastering, mic placement and the like.  Still, an encouraging start none-the-less!

Proof Of Concept

Grant Wentzel Recording

For a few years now I’ve been collecting wee bits of recording equipment with the hope — the dream — nay, the phantasy — that one day I’d have the time and the setup to do a little knob-twiddling in the comfort of my own home.

Between computer crashes and other dreary responsibilities the opportunity never knocked.  Until now.  Christmas fast approaches and Grandma wants a little something by which to remember the grandkids, such as a CD of Ben’s violin virtuosity and Mia’s creative interpretations of the Rogers & Hammerstein canon.   Ah!  Time to get to work!

Anyway, today for the first time the equipment functioned as it should.  Thus, I offer you this one-take wonder.  Next time I’ll pay attention to those typical tropes of Timing, Tempo, and Tuning, but for now I’m just having fun.