816 North

Musical adventure brings old-timer back to the classics

It came as quite the shock when I realized why I liked the two-CD album I picked up at the library.

I can go through hundreds of CDs in several categories — rock, country and folk — and find nothing I’m attracted to enough to take a chance on.

For one thing, I’m not inclined to go down a path I’ve been down before. It means all the artists I’ve already gotten to know are out. I might have loved their music then, even still do, but ground already covered is old ground.

What I look for is musical adventure, a new strain of an old genre, something I don’t already have a well-formed opinion on.

Sometimes I go on the simple name of an artist or the CD artwork. It’s a visceral reaction rooted in a hunch.

On my recent library trip, I walked out with two candidates – bands I knew of but hadn’t really digested.

I prefer not to name the bands here. Musical taste is personal, especially for us buckskin-clad pioneers who refuse to read reviews or have our opinions shaped by advertising.

The first CD went in the car player as soon as I got out of the library. It was an alt-country group I vaguely knew of, but couldn’t say anything about. If I recall, the band’s attempt to storm my musical Bastille lasted approximately one song.

There was a little bit too much of this for my taste, not to mention a little too much of that.

The second band I’d enjoyed before, even shared with someone at work. She’s a diehard Beatles fan with a band decal on her car, a poster over her desk and Fab Four tunes streaming at work every day.

I’m tempted to hint at the band’s identity, but I’d prefer that you guess quietly among yourselves while I describe what makes them who they are. These are the qualities that showcased exactly how stuck in the past I am.

I loved their songs immediately, what with the emphasis on strong vocals, Beatle-like harmonies, a prominent rhythm and musicianship that built songs rather than showcased any one musician’s talent.

The lyrics weren’t quite poetry, but they weren’t chopped liver, either. The words made sense and told stories without being anything as heavy-handed as a story song.

I’d guess, but haven’t actually checked, that the band members were in their mid-50s when the CD was cut, maybe older.

Then came the realization. As good as the songs were, it occurred to me I was identifying with music that came uncomfortably close to that nasty two-word label – Adult Contemporary.

I try not to have everything be about me, but this clearly was. I’d passed a milestone and officially could be labeled a comfort-seeking oldster who found solace in yesterday’s styles.

The band’s music was good, of course, but at the same time it was dating me, providing the same comfort as Perry Como singing in a buttoned-up cardigan golf sweater or Bing Crosby holding a pipe in the 1950s.

I felt like a candidate for the senior dinner discount at Golden Corral, the one served up until 5 p.m.

Next thing you know I’d be driving a Buick and waiting for my monthly AAA magazine.

A few days later, when I’d temporarily stopped dwelling on the thought that the words Adult Contemporary were just a euphemism for Over the Hill Nostalgic, I went online and listened to some of the same band’s early albums.

What I found was that they’d evolved from a hippie country band — the so-called Alternative Country — through a progression of styles until what they are now.

I discovered that time and experience smoothed the band’s edges, rounded them and made them more aerodynamic. They were a group of musicians whose present was moving forward, even as it reminded me of the past.

The fact that I enjoyed them was reason enough to skip the dark self-analysis.

It wasn’t so much living in the past as it was dipping a foot into it from time to time, even as the present whizzes by.

The things I loved so much — sweet melodies and harmonies, witty lyrics, pulsing rhythms — just don’t exist in present musical form today. What does that mean? If it weren’t for those bright musical memories, I’d be wandering now without a lighthouse to guide me home.

If you think Adult Contemporary is a nasty, nasty label, let me know at davidknopf48@gmail.com.

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