Pick Your Pop Culture

So, I've like written about music for 25 years, and like I've got a lot to say and not enough people to pay me for it, and like I like to write about TV, and books, and movies, and stuff like that.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Talent and Passion and Music, Oh My

I don’t mean to complain, because I enjoy both the challenge of trying to figure out office systems developed over two years by a previous employee and the income I’m earning by actually going to work five days a week. But, alas, it’s hard to keep up with a blog when you don’t have all that free time. It’s not even the writing so much as finding the subjects to cover. I haven’t seen any movies in the last few days, and I’m slogging through a complicated yet fascinating book as fast as I can, but I’m not done yet. And music has shuttled into the background of my life, so I don’t have anything interesting to say about what I’m hearing.

However, I did go out to Frederick’s Music Lounge again last night to catch Elizabeth McQueen and the Firebrands. Now, that, friends, was what we call a good time. Here’s the thing about young Ms. McQueen. She’s 27 years old, and yet her fave rave music these days is from the olden days of English pub-rock and the folks who followed in that ilk. So, you’ve got a young woman from Austin, Texas covering material made famous by old guys from England who dearly wanted to be playing in Texas back in the 70s. Will the circle be unbroken, I ask you?

McQueen is a pistol of a singer. She does it all with phrasing. Her voice is strong enough to get by, but not particularly distinctive of an instrument. However, she possesses the songs, puts some swing into the way she delivers ‘em, and a whole lot of passion. Believe me, you ain’t heard “Local Girls” by Graham Parker until you’ve heard her entirely un-sassy yet substantive rendition. Well, maybe you’ve heard it, but you ain’t heard it done in a manner so different from the original as to be a new song.

Except, of course, that it’s not a new song. Some of the songs McQueen does are new to me – as enamored as I am of the British scene of the late 70s, I never actually bought any Ducks Deluxe records – while others, such as “Almost Blue” by Elvis Costello, are as familiar as the hair on my head. So, it’s interesting that McQueen puts so much personality into her versions of other people’s songs, and not just any other people. She wants to sing the music of a very specific sort of person, the British pub or pub-influenced rocker.

I know, she’s got a lot of country and swing standards in her repertoire, too, but what’s getting her attention is the pub rock stuff. Still, she’s a full-fledged member of Asleep at the Wheel these days, too, so I guess we’ve got a lot of nuance still to wring from this talented young lady.

My next point has to do with talent. Or specifically, the difficulty of figuring out why I give the benefit of the doubt to some players, but not to others. The problem comes when talking about Jeff and David Lazaroff, whose band opened the show, mostly backed McQueen during her set, and then entirely joined forces with her for a final set of what was billed as the Roots Rock Roller Coaster. I’m going to own up to the obvious fact that I found the second guitarist in Lazaroff’s band to be quite attractive. But, pretty people annoy me musically all the time.

Nope, the interesting thing here was that, as I kept finding other people saying in various ways, she played in a weird kind of slow motion. She looks very young, and yet she obviously intensely studies the guitar licks of country, bluegrass, swing, and rockabilly guitarists. She soloed in every song, and put together impressive collections of classic ideas. But, she never quite delivered them with conviction, or more precisely, with the ease of expression that more experienced guitarists display. (Her counterpart on the other side of the stage, David Lazaroff was only really better at this by comparison; he had a few more original ways of tying ideas together, and he played faster, but he’s still got a ways to go, too.)

The fact is, this never really grew tiresome. Part of it was the great rhythm section behind the guitars; the other part was that whenever McQueen was singing, things were cooking no matter what the band sounded like. Still, I’m not sure how to explain why I found this particular display of the inevitable learning curve so much more promising than a lot of players I’ve heard over the years. There was something about her (and David) that told me they were going to get better some day, and in the meantime, there was the heady rush of making music on a hot night in a small bar in front of an enthusiastic crowd.

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