musician.educator.musicologist

on Not Really Listening

Added on by Taylor Smith.

I was listening to Ben Harper’s album Diamonds on the Inside, today. As is kind of typical for Ben Harper, the album wanders a bit; there are great moments, and then there are points where it kind of rambles on, wearing out its welcome at times. This album isn’t new; it was released in 2003. (I think I first heard it on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Ecclectic back when I was living in Pomona about a year after this ... listening to FM radio ... like a schmuck.) I have heard it several times before, but, it has been a year or more since I had “listened.” As a whole, the album is probably in the 6/10 range; if I could reduce it down to a five-song EP, it would definitely earn a higher score.

Sometimes, I listen too much like a record producer. Instead of just listening to a song and letting it be what it is, I often think of things that could make it better. I suppose that three degrees in music and a doctoral dissertation about mid-60s recording studio usage could do that to a person. When I should be enjoying the music, my head ends up in places like:

“Ooh. If there was a little more reverb on the guitar, there, it would sound better.”

“Man, I wish they would have waited one more phrase before bringing in the backing vocals.”

When I was listening to the title track, I caught myself thinking, “That spot, right there, would be perfect for a little bit of pedal steel.” Then, I remembered that I was talking about Ben Harper, one of the most accomplished slide guitar players around, and I was giving him advice on when/where to add some slide guitar in one or his songs. Who am I to be doling out this kind of “advice?”

Then, in the next verse ... some beautiful pedal steel countermelodies right where I thought they should be.

This isn’t me trying to do one of those “great minds think alike” comparisons or anything. I just found this to be kind of funny.

One more idea: I want the guitar in R.E.M.’s “Let Me In” (from Monster) to have even less definition. I want there to be no rhythmic distinction ... just a big wall of super-saturated fuzz. Then, when the tambourine and synth come in, it would kind of be like, “Oh, now I can sense the beat.” Just an idea for you guys, Mike, Peter, Michael, and Bill (and Scott). Do with that what you will.