Sunday, May 22, 2016


For this Summer's Boogaloo production.

This is just a fun number. The Hospitality Ladies don't have a lot of stage time, so this song was a way to make it memorable. Also, as they actually do get their men later in the play, this is a fun way of telegraphing what those guys are in for.

Here are some very rough vocals as a guideline (just me!)

By Dave Leigh

[Cynthella queues: “Well, Estelle, what kind of man are you looking for?”]

He gonna fix my stairs
He gonna help around the house
He gonna carry and fetch!
He gonna iron my blouse
He gonna open my jars!
He gonna reach the top shelf
And he gonna be a man…
MY kind of man!

“Your turn, girl!”

He gonna have money
He gonna have a few bucks
I don’t care how he gets it
By workin’ or luck
He gonna pay the bills!
He gonna buy me some pearls...
And he gonna be a man…
MY kind of man!

[The music plays, but Pansy “misses her queue”. The other two look at her expectantly… the music keeps playing. They try to pull the verse out of her, but at first she just shakes her head shyly… then they ask a little more forcefully:

“What you want, Pansy?”
“Yeah, c’mon… tell us!”
“Yeah, tell us!”

[the music stops and Pansy starts this verse tenderly, but by the time she gets to the word “lovin’” she’s getting into it. Turns out she’s a little sex machine. By the time it hits the word "happy", it's in full swing again.]

I want a man who’s tender
I want a man who cares
When it comes to lovin’
I want a man who SHARES
He gonna make me HAPPY!!
Be my Jelly Roll
And he gonna be a man
MY kind of man!

[Whoever else is on-stage (the con-men, etc.) get up and become Motown backup singers.]

[CYNTHELLA] He gotta have the money
[PANSY] - - the LOVE!
[CYNTHELLA] To be the man of my dreams   (BACKUP: “Oooo, yeah!”)
[ESTELLA] And thanks to Doctor Hank (PANSY: “THIS RIGHT HERE!”)
[ESTELLA] It’s all comin’ to me!   (BACKUP: “Ooooh, yeah!”)
[PANSY] My Lover Booooooy   (BACKUP:  "Her lover boy!")
[PANSY] Is gonna fall in my lap   (BACKUP: “He won’t know what hit him, he’s a..” finish on the MAN, below))
[TOGETHER] And he’s gonna be a MAN!   (BACKUP: “Mmmm-Hmmmm”)
[TOGETHER] MY kind of man! (BACKUP: “Mmmm-Hmmmm”)
[TOGETHER] And he’s gonna be a MAN! (BACKUP: “Mmmm-Hmmmm”)
[TOGETHER] MY kind of man! (BACKUP: “Oh, Yeah!”)

[Repeat last verse… and TESTIFY!! Somebody pulls out a tambourine.]


For this Summer's Boogaloo production.

"Write what you know". That's what my teachers always told me.

So when I saw what I'd have to be writing a song about here I knew I'd be in deep kim-chee. So I enlisted some lyrical help. I usually work with a lyricist anyway, so I'm perfectly comfortable with that.

The song is sung by a woman whose parents have recently passed away. Going through their papers, she learns that her father had been married previously and that she has a half-sister she never knew about. Now they've corresponded by mail and the singer is waiting for her sister to arrive by rail from California. They will meet for the very first time on the railway platform.

You can view & download a lead sheet for this song here (PDF) 
(I think there's a grievous error in it, but it's not one you can't work around.)

Lyrics by JoAnn Abbott
Music by Dave Leigh

All of my life it was only me
No one else to laugh with, only lonely me
Though I loved my parents,
It wasn’t the same
As a sister with whom I could play

Now I’ve learned my loneliness is done
I can’t wait to see her – we’ll have so much fun!
How I hope she likes me,
And when this day ends
We’ll be not just sisters – we’ll be friends

I envied other families
When I’d see them all together
Happy as the birds that fly
In flocks all of one feather
I’d even envy them when they would fuss and fight
For they always seemed to work it out,
They always seemed to make it come out right.

All my life I’ve waited for this day
When she gets here I don’t know what I’ll say!
Will she like my clothing?
Will she have my hair?
Will she want to know me? Will she even care?

Well no matter if we don’t look the same
We’ll still be sisters and I’ll make her glad she came!
How I hope she likes me,
And when this day ends
We’ll be not just sisters – we’ll be friends


This is sung early in the first act. I merely told JoAnn that the singer needs to be nervous. She took it from there and pretty much hit it out of the park. At least I think so.

Once the ladies meet, it's pretty much as expected. They really DO hit it off, and after a bit of gushing and hugs, they reprise the song prior to their exit.
It’s amazing how we think the same 
You’re my sister, and I’m so glad you/I came! 
And I more than like you, I will love you till the end 
For we’re not just sisters – we are friends!


This pretty much cries out for something slow and sweet, like "Goodnight, My Someone" from The Music Man, so that's what I went with. The bridge was a little troublesome for me. It's a little more rhythmic than I'd hoped for, but it seems to work.

To be honest. I always dread writing for women, and I don't mean lyrically. I never seem to get the range right. If you're writing for a soprano, for instance, you tend to think, "hey, I can just throw notes up to the rafters and she'll hit them all". And she will. But it may wind up sounding more church or opera than a person who's vulnerable and airing her feelings. I haven't heard this one sung yet, so I don't know if it will need transposition.

Spread My Wings And Fly

For our Boogaloo Summer play, I was asked to write a song for one of the young actresses to sing. The challenge with writing a song for her is that her character just doesn't have a lot to hang a song on. She's not involved in the ending, and not even much in the middle. She's just there. She picks at her brother early on, but anything based on that might just come of as petty.

So here's what I did:

I didn't base it on anything in the play. Instead, I imagined a future history for her, and because these plays are loosely historical, I loosely based it on an elderly firebrand of a woman I knew from about 25 years back... a very independent woman who would have been about the right age. So in my fictional future history of this girl, she becomes very independent as a young adult and travels the world. It also points out why a little girl in 1907 would most of her apparent effort just picking at her older brother.

It's basically the "I Want" song. Most musicals have them... think "I Can't Wait to be King" from The Lion King or "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. Even though it doesn't propel this narrative, I like to think that it sets up the character for a future show. (Don't scoff... most of our patrons have made it an annual event, so setting up one show from another is perfectly legit!)

There's a part in the play where she gets hushed up a couple of times for teasing her brother, this gives her a reason to sing the song. This gives her a reason, too, for being disconnected in the last part of the show. Her father can be a little unfair here, particularly if he knows in the back of his head that Missy has the advantage. His uneven treatment of the kids is a way of leveling the playing field, if you follow the logic. Dad pretty much knows that the girl is more quick-witted than her brother, even if he won't admit it.


You'd think my family would see
That big ol' stupid lummox
Ain't good at nothin' much at all
'cept thinkin' of his stomach.

But he's "the boy", and even though
My brother is a slob
He gets respect from all we know
He even gets a job
And I don't think it's fair.
And I don't think it's spite
To say that this is just. not. right.

You won't catch me pouting, or parting with a tear,
You won't hear me sniffle, whine or cry
It may not be tomorrow, it may not be next year,
But I know I'm going to spread my wings and fly.

There's a world out there,
I'm going to see it all!
There are things no one would ever dare
I'm going to dare them all!
I've seen some books and photographs
Of wildebeests and tall giraffes.
Of jungles and of pyramids
That I'd like to appear amid.
Of kangaroos and crocodiles
Of canyons that go on for miles
Of artists on the River Seine,
Who paint their laughter, joy and pain.
Of duchesses and dukes who preen
And bow before their sov'reign Queen
Of icy huts of Eskimos
Who trade their kisses nose to nose

I'm going to see it all...

But sometimes when I say these things out loud
My Ma and Pappa say that I'm too proud.
They think they can protect me
with rules that are like fences
They say I'll settle down some day
and come back to my senses

But, if I could get a word in
I'd say a fence won't keep a bird in
Someday I'm going to spread my wings and fly!


The first verse is a pretty accurate description of the character of the older brother, at least from his sister's point of view; and really from the audience's as well. He's preoccupied with food. The second verse simply expresses her dissatisfaction. It's really the only place in the play where she gets to do that aside from sniping at her brother. Both verses are basically edits of what I said when I described what I wanted the song to say.

The third verse started out as more of me stating what I wanted the song to say, but then I jotted down the line "But I know I'm going to spread my wings and fly," and knew I had the hook. It came to my mind, and rings true to me because the woman who I'm basing this on was a pilot in her youth.

Now I just dive into the "I want" bit. Knowing that she'll be a world traveler, I started listing out the things one might wish to see while adventuring in 1907. By keeping them as rhyming couplets, I can make this verse as long or as short as I wish, and choose to make it just a little bit over-long, as it gives her a chance to start rushing the list excitedly, revealing her passion. "I'm going to see it all..." applies the brakes to this headlong dash.

And this allows me to fall back to the obstacle (Ma and Pappa, and their provincial expectations for their "little girl"), and to set up the "fences" metaphor so that I can deliver the final three lines, which I absolutely adore.
But, if I could get a word in
I'd say a fence won't keep a bird in
Someday I'm going to spread my wings and fly!
In those three lines, we hark back to the "Hush up!" that prompted the song in the first place; we refute the "fences" metaphor, and we re-assert a bright future, which is a recurring theme in the play. And hopefully, it turns a character who's "just there" into one who you care about, and will recognize fondly when she makes her return appearance next year.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


For this Summer's Boogaloo production.

This is the opening number. It's not really an overture, but it's an introduction to characters we'll see later in the play. It serves to set the tone of the play as well. In 1907, Union was a bustling boomtown that had gone from about 500 residents to nearly 10,000 in the space of a couple of years. In other productions set in later times, we focused on the drudgery of working in the mills, and their institutional nature, but not here. This is a time in which recruiters actively scoured the countryside for workers, offering what was at the time top-dollar wages. And the folks were ecstatic to have the steady employment.

Here we meet a family of mountaineers who've left the Appalachians for work; the people of Union County who regularly rode the short line to Union and Buffalo mills; a pair of con men who will figure prominently in the script; "hospitality ladies" who see to lunches and lodging; and the Stationmaster.


The man from the Union Mill came by
He said he got a job for me!
Said he built him a mill house five miles high
And he got a job for me!
My fam’ly will be welcome there
They’re buildin’ me a mansion with room to spare
I even heared they got plumbin’ there!
And they got a job for me!

They’s  people rollin’ in from miles around
‘Cause they got a job for me!
I never seen such a busy town!
With plenty of jobs for me!
My fortunes will be gotten
In that friendly land of cotton
I’m gonna be on Easy Street
‘Cause they got a job for me!

So we’re all aboard a southbound train
And possibly we’ll never see
These rollin’ hills again.
There’s a land of opportunity
Prac-ti-cal-ly beggin’ me to
Plant myself and settle down
Nevermore to roam
So now I’m makin’ Union my new home!

Look at the money just walkin’ around!
Oh, the possibilities!
Y’know, we could get rich in this little town
Oh, the possibilities!
We’ll just sell ‘em whatever they think they need
So long as we can make it for chicken feed
That’s just good business, don’t call it greed!
Oh, the possibilities!

Just sit right back and rest a spell
Enjoy the hospitality!
Our sandwiches will ring your bell
Enjoy the hospitality!
Our sweet tea tastes like it was blessed!
So sit right down and be our guest
The food here is the very best
Enjoy the hospitality!

So welcome to our friendly town
We hope you’re going to cozy up
And want to settle down
It’s a land of opportunity
Filled with possibility
Enjoy the hospitality
And put away your fear
If you’re like me you’re gonna like it here!


The lyrics keep hitting on the theme of each verse, notably, jobs and opportunity. The hospitality ladies are doing their job... today, the City of Union's motto is "City of Hospitality".

Note that there's a bit of exaggeration in the mountaineers' verse; a staple of Appalachian storytelling. That mill is taller than anything they've ever seen that wasn't made by God. Speaking of which, they're not getting just a house, but a mansion; which is Biblical allusion to their expectation of a little slice of Heaven. By the way, it's a fact that the mills did provide housing. I myself lived in one of the mill houses on Mill Hill. It wasn't situated on a street... rather, the front door opened onto a small walkway that lead straight to the mill itself.

(Note: I'm pretty sure that my friend Edric will cringe at the fact that the "Easy Street" line doesn't rhyme with "cotton". Not all of us are perfect. :) )

Even the con men are struck by opportunity. And by placing the hatching of their scheme here in the opening song, we can go straight into it later, without a lot of to-do. They're con men... selling "snake oil" is what they do.

The Stationmaster's verse calls back to each of the previous verses, in part because it gets reprised at the end of the play as the closing number:

So welcome to our friendly town
We hope you’re going to cozy up
And want to settle down
It’s a land of opportunity
Filled with possibility
Enjoy the hospitality
And put away your fear
If you’re like me you’re gonna like it here!


It's just simple. It starts with a train whistle, and with a snare drum approximation of the chugga-chugga of a railroad train, joined by a musical motif that keeps it moving. The only tricky part was coming up with something that could be "sung" by absolutely anybody, regardless of vocal ability. You'd think it rare to cast people who can't sing in a musical, and you'd be wrong. It's the most common thing in theater.

I'm writing songs for a musical.

You can buy this on Amazon
Since the year 2001. every year in Union, SC we do an original play that recounts the stories passed on by the residents of the county. The last several shows were penned by Dr. Daniel O'Shields.

Last Summer we did a murder mystery ("Murder on Apple Road"), and I did a pre-recorded number for the opening curtain, "We Haven't Got a Clue". This year's show is set in 1907, and relates the interconnected tales of several people who temporarily inhabit the Union station of the now-defunct Union-Buffalo short line. At this point in time, Union's cotton mills were just getting into full swing. It was a boomtown, with people pouring in for the work. Those mills were the town's main source of employment until they were shut down in the 1990s and their operations moved overseas.

A friend of mine, having heard the plot, quipped that this is the Play In Which Absolutely Everything Happens. She's right.

I'll post info about the songs as I'm writing them, including some notes about my writing process.

At the moment there are five numbers:

  1. A Job For Me
  2. Sisters
  3. Spread My Wings and Fly
  4. My Kind of Man
The fifth number is sort of a surprise, and it's very short.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

SpinTunes 11 Round 4 Reviews

It's the final round, and this one's a Photo Finish! The challenge:
Photo Finish - Write a song inspired by the Everett Leigh photo below:
The photographer (and subject) of the photo happens to be my brother.

As this is an "inspired by" challenge, with no set lyrical or technical requirements, it's a pure contest of songwriting craft and pretty much anything goes. And listening to the songs it occurred to me, not only that all of the composers belong in this final round, but also that I found it really, really difficult to rank them. They're all excellent! So, being at a loss myself, I turned to my good friend Vizzini for his opinion.

Vizzini is renowned for his blistering sharp wit and refined taste. I found him at a tavern near the outskirts of Florin, sharpening his stiletto. Being Sicilian, he's rarely without it, though he prefers to use his brain and hired muscle. I explained my predicament, offered him my MP3 player and lyric printouts and ordered a round of drinks. Presently the barmaid arrived to pour the wine. I motioned for her to leave the bottle.

Presently Vizzini turned off the player. "They're all very good," he opined.

"I know," I replied. "I guess it must be as hard for you to rank them as it is for me!"

"Inconceivable!" cried Vizzini, "I already know who the winner should be!"

"Really?" I was impressed. "Would you enlighten me?"

"Of course!" he answered. "Let's go through them one at a time, in album order.  We'll start with the first entry, 'The Real Indiana Jones'. Jailhouse Payback, prompted by the appearance of your brother in the photograph, engages in well-defined storytelling concerning the movie character of his title. Within this, he incorporates other features of the photograph... clouds, sky, the sea, and the rocky shore. Coupled with a very catchy tune, infectious beat, and solid performance that includes an impressive guitar solo, clearly this entry must be my favorite!"

"Interesting!", I said. "So this is number one. What's your second choice?"

"Not so fast!" cautioned Vizzini. "I haven't finished describing my first place choice!"

"Alright..." said I, puzzled, "Do continue."

Vizzini continued, "Governing Dynamics' entry, 'Sound On Sound' has a very different feeling, much more melancholy and laid-back. Though the vocals may seem a little more shaky, we have to remember that this is a songwriting competition. And Governing Dynamics went beyond the image of the photograph. He did the sleuthing to learn of the actual location shown in the photograph and incorporated that into his song. That kind of detailed craftsmanship certainly earns him some bonus points. Plus, the guitar work in this number is superb. Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

"So," I ventured, "This is the best of the lot? You're ready to move on to number two?"

"Not even remotely! I'm just getting started! I haven't yet discussed Ominous Ride and 'Rocks And Sky And Water And Sand'! Though the band claims not to be proud of this mix, it's largely due to the same perfectionist attitude I bring to my own work!" Vizzini inspected his stiletto with a slight frown and resumed polishing the razor edge as he continued to speak. "This piece encapsulates the resonant sound that is the signature of Ominous Ride's previous work. It also displays a different kind of songwriting; one based in pure emotion rather than narrative. One image expressed in light prompts others expressed in lyric and sound. This emotion isn't lost even on an intellectual like myself! Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

I sensed a clear pattern. Despite that, I fed the troll. Then I turned back to Vizzini and queried, "I suppose now you're ready to move on?"

"You'd like to think that, wouldn't you! But I'm not some moron who leaves a thought unfinished! There's another entry to consider! Megalodon took a literal left turn with their entry, 'Stout Cortez', winding up on the West Coast instead of the East, describing a sunset instead of a sunrise. Such things are perfectly allowable when the image alone is your prompt. And according to the band, the photo prompt prompted a memory of a poetic prompt to prompt the music and narrative! Inconceivable!" It occurred to me that perhaps that word didn't mean what he thought it meant, but I allowed him to continue, "Megalodon turns this into the story of an explorer on the Western shore of a vast continent. Not only is this highly imaginative, it gets whimsy points for putting your brother in a rubber room. It's also arguably the best produced song of the bunch. Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

"But that makes four favorites!" I complained, "How would you rank them?"

"I've already told you what I thought of each song!" snapped Vizzini. "A clever man can hold more than one thought at a time, and a Sicilian never goes back on his word! And that reminds me, I've been employed to kidnap a certain young maiden, and must collect my associates and procure seagoing conveyance. I'm on a tight schedule, so now I must take my leave!"

Vizzini began to walk away, then turned back to the table, sweeping the bottle of wine and two goblets into his pack before bustling out of the door.


Realizing that I had just wasted an evening and a good bit of coin without being any closer to a solution, I decided to call on my brother for his opinion. After all, he took the photo. It's only fair that he get a say in ranking the songs.

I found him at a tavern near the outskirts of Florence, sharpening the contrast on some images in Photoshop. Being a photographer he's rarely without it, though he prefers to use his brain and in-camera settings. I explained my predicament, offered him my MP3 player and lyric printouts and ordered a round of drinks. Presently our server arrived to pour the sweet tea. I motioned for her to leave the pitcher.

Presently Everett turned off the player. "They're all very good," he opined.

A sense of dread coupled with deja vu began to wash over me. It quickly abated as he continued.  "The poetry in the lyrics for all were easy for me to relate to and I truly liked them a lot. But if I have to rank them, then here are my personal preferences, in order." He slid a piece of paper across the table to me. On it he had written his verdict:
  1. Jailhouse Payback - The Real Indiana Jones
  2. Megalodon - Stout Cortez
  3. Ominous Ride - Rocks And Sky And Water And Sand
  4. Governing Dynamics - Sound On Sound
I turned the paper over and realized it was the bill. When I looked up, Everett was gone.


Sadly, Vizzini didn't offer an opinion on the shadows, but here are my thoughts:

Jailhouse Payback - Steps And Regrets (Shadow)
To be perfectly honest, of the two entries from Jailhouse Payback, this one is the one that got stuck in my head. It's a lot catchier. Nevertheless the right song was submitted as the official entry, as The Real Indiana Jones captures more of the flavor of photo than this one. It's a little strange to hear "Up on the mountainside" when looking at a photo of the ocean. Lots of banjo goodness in this one, and it's earned a permanent spot in my MP3 player. This sort of song is why I'm a Jailhouse Payback fan.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Sunset (Shadow)
Ooooooh, this is a little darker than we're used to from the Dudes. They went with the 'sunset', and produced a solid ballad of regret. There's still a hint of what I call "BYD Mode" in the chorus, which makes it recognizable as a Boffo Yux Dudes production. I'm a bit distracted by the instrumentation, though. Are these instruments out of tune on purpose, by accident, or is it just my ears? If this were a piano, some of the notes might be found in the cracks between the keys.

Boffo Yux Dudes - The Color Of Invisible Light (Shadow) 
My high school teachers always said, "write what you know," leaving me puzzled as to why they consistently rejected my monographs on serial murder. Nevertheless, this advice seems to have worked out pretty well for the Dudes with their background in broadcast media. The first bar establishes that this tune is going to be in signature "BYD mode" clean through. They're playing to their strength in the same way that the Riddler is playing to his every time he sends Batman a postcard. It usually works out, right? The photographed colors of the sunlit sky led them to this pensive piece that notes that most of the electromagnetic spectrum is factually "invisible light" (which, as a former USAF radio tech, I truly find fascinating). Besides the fact that this has some really nice organ work, there's gotta be a prize for this line alone: "Listen to the song I sing, it’s pulled out of my rectum." I can't argue with that!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Made A Clarinet...

Since this pic was taken I've added a bell.
I made a clarinet.

Really it's started out a recorder with a clarinet mouthpiece, but it sounds a lot like a B-flat clarinet. In fact, I was going to make a recorder, but by using the clarinet mouthpiece I saved a lot of trouble getting the fipple (whistle mouthpiece) right. The clarinet mouthpiece and reeds bumped the construction cost from about $5 to $40.

Then it sort of went from being a modified recorder back to being a (keyless) clarinet, as I took a heat gun to a section of pipe to make a bell and added it to the body. Since the body itself is nothing more than a straight piece of CPVC and the mouthpiece and bell are easily transferred, I'm experimenting with different fingering arrangements.

Well... really they're pretty much just a CPVC plumbing pipe cut to lengths, with finger holes drilled in them, but they sound OK. In fact, they sound a lot better than I thought they would. 

After making it, I discovered that the clarinet reed/recorder fingering combination is sometimes called a saxinet.

In making the instrument I made some reference to The Physics of Music and Musical Instruments, by David Lapp to get the tuning right.

Item Picture

written by David Lapp
published by the Wright Center for Science Education Tufts University

SpinTunes 11 Round 2 Reviews

SpinTunes 11, Round 2. The challenge: "Write a song about your favorite guilty pleasure".

This round I'm looking for sincerity. We did say "your" guilty pleasure, after all. Now, there's no way we can check up on that, so I don't really care if it's your actual guilty pleasure or not. I'm looking for you to convince me that it IS with a marriage of lyrics and style. And hell, if you can make ME like your guilty pleasure, then that's just icing on the cake.

That's the part I write before hearing the songs. Now that I'm hearing them, I don't know what to say... once again, there's no way these should be spread into 16 slots, but them's the rules. So here are the rankings, top to bottom. And if you see less verbiage from me than usual, it's because you guys (and gal) seem to know what you're doing. So I'm just sitting back, chillin', and enjoying the songs this round.


Glen Raphael - Cadbury Shanty
You brought the troubadour in strength, Glen. Clever lyrics, a tune with nice contour, an addictive rhythm. And spoons. Yeah.

Jailhouse Payback - Watching "Lockdown"
C'mon... a band named "Jailhouse Payback" jointly writing a song called 'Watching "Lockdown""? A song with genetics like this cries out for a smokin' C&W sound with banjo? AND THE DELIVERED! What's not to love about this? A favorite.

Ominous Ride - Cheap Wine
There's that great sound again! I could go for Mogen David myself.

Mark Humble - Secret Desire
LOL. Mark, I never knew you were such a meme person. Heavy metal, sweat, long hair and cheezburgers. Meow.

Adam Sakellarides - Guilty Pleasure
JUDGE Judy -- GUILTY pleasure -- oh, you're killing me. I can't believe I'm putting this here.

Ross Durand - Uh Oh!
Oh, wow... This fun number is a callback to the classic commercial. It's also an effective defense of childhood comfort food. :)

Megalodon - Exact Change
Oddly enough, my mother had this same mania. She'd dig around in her purse until the entire queue was tapping their toes like Fred Astaire. Then she'd beam at the clerk, pleased with herself beyond all reason. I like this song. It's got a nice beat, it's easy to listen to. It doesn't jump up and demand anything from me, but it doesn't languish either. Good stuff.

"BucketHat" Bobby - Ode To Internet Explorer
I hate the browser. I don't know why I like the song. Maybe it's just that a little resemblance to "Under the Sea". Maybe it's the hand claps. Maybe it's the fact that I was never cool enough to use Piczo. Whatever. I still like it.

Governing Dynamics - Ireland Delay
When I heard the first line I could have sworn I had heard the phrase "City of Angels" from you before. It bugged me so much I went and Googled it. I couldn't find it, so I guess it's deja vu. It's the sort of phrase you can get away with once, so check it off your bucket list. Smooth rock, with more than a touch of U2's style. Oh, let's face it, you nailed the style. And a good pastiche goes far.

Edric Haleen - My Dear Wife
Candy Crush is addictive, or so I hear. I wouldn't know: as with heroin, I've never tried it. And here I am on the day before St. Valentine's, submitting a review of an Edric Haleen song in which he blames his wife for wasting his time. I hope Edric has a recovery plan.

Pigfarmer Jr - I Like p0rn
Everyone loves p0rn, even the people who are offended by it. And pleasures don't get much guiltier than this. The music outdoes the lyrics here. I guess that's not a bad thing... a friend of mine commented that it has an "appropriate" rhythm. Don't ask. Really. Just don't.

James Young - Love (Actually)
Really nice rhymes and near-rhymes. I was kind of getting into the schtick where you're calling out the actors for other roles, and I wish you'd kept that up. It would have helped with the awkward "Billy Bob Thornton" line. Musically, there's nothing *wrong* with it, but it doesn't grab me. I'm pretty sure the other judges are going to rank this higher.

Rob From Amersfoort - Girls In Leggings
This has a nice, quirky sound. I can't quite be as enthusiastic about the so-so lyrics. To make it up to you, here's a link:

Ellie Sparrow - Bathe In Media
I like the simple accompaniment, but the instrumentals still overrun the vocals. Not as bad as in round 1. Ellie... PLEASE... your voice is nice. We want to hear it. Don't bury it.

Emperor Gum - Electricity
I don't quite buy this as a guilty pleasure. I'm not even sure it's what we meant by "guilty pleasure". Congrats on the musical departure... this was a big change for you, and well done. It's particularly clever to bring the electric sound into a song about electricity... but I can't shake the feeling that it was soft on meeting the challenge.

Jon Eric - Candy Cigarette
Argggghhh... I hate it when this happens. I don't think this song meets the challenge. If I got it wrong, I apologize, but I've got to be able to say "challenge met". This kills me because the song is catchy and poppy, and very cool. It's as sweet as the lyrics. It's TITLED like it should be, but you're singing about the girl, and metaphorically compare her to the candy cigarette exactly once before comparing her to other candies. That's not what we asked for. You're supposed to write a song ABOUT your guilty pleasure. Now, the girl might be that, but that's not where the song went with it. It's doubly sad because this would have been PERFECT for Spintunes 9, round 2: "Write a song about unconditionally loving someone who plainly isn't worth it." The first verse and refrain easily nails that challenge.


Brian Gray - Building An Orc Army (Shadow)
Intricate rhymes that would make Eminem bow out! Speedy delivery! Funky beats! If this hadn't been so long in the making and had been written for this challenge, you'd get another number one ranking from me. I'd even buy it as being a guilty pleasure. I mean, after all, Saruman *did* hide his dirty misdeeds as long as he could, and obviously took pleasure from his megalomania. But you didn't write it for this contest, so you'll have to content yourself with being the very best shadow of this round.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

SpinTunes 11 Round 3 Reviews

OK, we're up to Round 3, and down to 11 competitors. The challenge:
Greek Chorus - Write a song with no chorus based on an ancient mythological figure/story. (2 minute minimum length) (they had 8 days)
Before I get on with the reviews and rankings, here's what went through my mind when we selected this challenge. In other words; once again, here are my biases:

The songs
"No chorus" is pretty straightforward. For me, that's no stanza repeated. You can swap out tunes, have a hook, etc... you just can't repeat a group of lyrics. Obviously we can't say the same for the music, or strophic form would be out, leaving us to allow only through-composed tunes. That's not what we're looking for. So personally, I'm fine with it being in a verse-chorus format musically, so long as every verse is lyrically distinct. I'm also fine with short refrains and callbacks no more than a line in length.

As for the content. I'm looking for exactly what we asked for... a song based on an ancient mythological figure or story. We got some questions early on as to how "ancient" is defined, and I was pretty clear that I felt that 500 years or so would do it, particularly if you were going to pull from some lesser-known mythology. Any older than that and you'd start dropping off some mythologies such as those of the New World civilizations or the Norse. For my tastes, the older and more obscure the better.  I don't mind looking something up, and am very happy to learn something new. So I was hoping for some bit of Aztec or Akkadian lore. I also prefer stories to purely emotional or allusory lyrics in this case. And though the song itself doesn't really have to be ancient, I think you'd have to really get my attention if you're going with a modern theme.

So before I listen, that's what I'm looking for: a song with no chorus based on ancient mythology. Let's see what we got...


Ominous Ride - Sisyphus
Oh, yeaaaaaahhh.... you got me with the opening guitar. Then again with the vocals. I'd expect to see this on a vinyl LP as part of a rock opera. Very Pink Floyd. A little more distinction between Sisyphus and Death would be nice.

Governing Dynamics - Wax Wings
I'll have you to know that Procol Harum was one of my favorite bands back in 70s. You caught my attention with the organ, Travis. Prog rock suits you. You've got a good start on a three-act piece here. I know you were worried about the length, but honestly, something like this cries out for a longer piece. Though six minutes is pushing it for a competition, you could easily double it (or more) on an album with no problem.

Glen Raphael - Elisha The Prophet
OK, Glen, I'm diggin' this. Ancient mythological figure: check. Clever, entertaining lyrics and catchy tune: check. The song is so good in my estimation that I'm going to be picky, perhaps unfairly. It sounds ever-so-slightly rushed, and it's heard mostly in the guitar work. I know you were actually rushed to get onto the JoCo cruise, so it's understandable.

James Young - Unbound
I gave my three of my top four spots to retro rock. Sue me. This has a nice slow start that steps up in exactly right spot. You'd have edged out Glen into my number three slot had it not been for the first part of the fourth verse, which I think could probably use a little tightening. Don't ask me how... it's a feeling.

Megalodon - Cassandra
The intro dragged a bit, but I forgot about it when the song started. The challenge does say "based on" ancient mythology, and that's what you went with here. A "modern-day Cassandra". I'm actually surprised that you're the only group that took the allegorical approach. I did say you'd have to really catch my attention with a modern theme, and you did it with that groove.

Edric Haleen - Is That Too Much To Ask? (An Appeal To The American People)
Through-composition is a sure-fire way of meeting the technical challenge. Of course, Edric, for you this means basically, "write a song". This is your briar patch, after all. ;) That said, the final "WAR!" was probably over-the-top. It might actually have a bigger impact coming from Jesus if it were under-stated. Generally I'm finding that I like the subtlety of Elisha a bit better.

Emperor Gum - Pyramus
Topic-wise, this is what I'm looking for! Ancient and story-based. Told in Emperor Gum's trademarked very-private-conversation perspective. Musically, this was a great arrangement. Vocally, I wish you'd gotten a guest singer. But I have to judge the song, and I like this. It sounds very much like it would be intended as a musical drama, and though you've used this structure before, it took me a while to figure out why it doesn't work as well for me in a stand-alone song as it would in a play. To explain, take a look at Edric's theatrical approach: it's to sing to you, the audience. Governing Dynamics tells a two-person story, but you feel as though you're one of those characters because he limits himself to "I"/"me" and "you". It may sound odd, but as I see it, first person implies that you're speaking to the audience directly, as does second-person directed at the audience. Even third person implies that you're talking to the audience about someone. All of these are inclusive in some way. But in this case your characters are so focused on each other that it feels as though the audience is excluded. It's a private moment and my gut reaction is to mind my own business. Incidentally, that is my theory regarding the Beatles' runaway popularity in the early '60s. Prior to them, most songs were sung to a specifically named person. But the Beatles sang "I Wanna Hold YOUR Hand", "She Loves YOU", etc.. They made it personal.

Jailhouse Payback - The Story of Xenu And The Revolt In The Stars
Guys, this song had me screaming at the Moon as it was playing in the listening party from the moment the word "thetan" was first uttered. You get banjo points, you get Ray Stevens pastiche-points, you get entertainment points, and you get all of that deducted for screwing with the "ancient" requirement.  Yes, I know Xenu is supposedly 75 million years old, but you and I both know "the Commodore" dreamed up this story around 1966. If I let you get away with this one, then what's to say someone couldn't just up and invent a brand new story about character like "Smeghead, the Magic Caveman" and claim that even though he was conceived yesterday he's obviously "ancient" because he "lived" in the Neolithic age 10,000 years ago? That's pretty much identical to what's happening here except that it was another guy, not you, who dreamed it up recently. So although you squeak by on a very slim technicality... although I love your song more than any other song on this list... although if the challenge had omitted that one word you'd have come in first place by a Country-and-Western mile... *sigh*

Ross Durand - Sympathy for Hades
Ross, it's a nice homage to the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil". Got a little out-done this round, though. Could have benefitted from a little more out-of-the box treatment.

Mark Humble - Waiting For Persephone
I usually like your stuff more, Mark... and I like this one to a point. It actually sounds longer than it is. I was surprised that it's only two and a half minutes long. I think it could benefit (oddly enough, given this criticism) from some more length that you could take advantage of with a softer opening and a brighter, more joyous Spring.

Rob From Amersfoort - Pygmalion & Galatea
It's a good topic. The lyrics are thin, though, and the music is a little more video-game than either storytelling or emotion.


Jeff Brown - Orion (Shadow)
Perhaps could use a little variety, but very nice. Would be a good piece on an album between two more energetic pieces.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Spintunes 11 Round 1 Reviews

Well, it's that time again. SpinTunes 11, Round 1, and I'm judging. As always, I'm going in to the round with certain expectations. This time I'm expecting...

...something different. Something narrative, if possible. A moment in time or a frozen emotion if not. We’re not asking for a lot… there’s nothing technical about the challenge. But we are asking for a song about something, so the more meaning that gets packed into it, the better.

If you’re new to SpinTunes, know that I do my best to judge this as a songwriting contest, not a “battle of the bands”. Performance counts, definitely, but it’s possible to overcome limited instrumentals or vocals with really good songwriting craft or instinct or emotion. And I’m pretty sure that where some of my choices surprise you, it’s explained by one of these factors. In the end, it’s subjective, and there you go.

If you’re returning to SpinTunes, you’ll have gotten on my good side if you brought something a little different than you have before, mainly because this is such a light challenge.

Don’t read too much into the rankings. Many of these were too close for there to be a difference… and I mean there are groups of as many as five people that I want to put in the same slot. But somebody had to come before somebody else. The fact that I can’t tie rankings disappoints me, too. Keep in mind that the rules this time don’t include eliminations, so try to jockey to maintain or get a better position next round!

Here they are, ranked from top to bottom:


Ominous Ride - Maiden Trip
I’m always up for an ominous ride. Love the sound, love the sound, love the sound. This is delightfully mysterious… which fits perfectly with the early prog rock sound, just this side of psychedelic. If I were to remake The Prisoner, I’d want this song in the soundtrack, preferably when the Rover shows up. There’s nothing really to explain. Just enjoy.

Mark Humble - The First Time You Broke My Heart 
I’d buy this.

Emperor Gun - Leaving
I have to admit. When this started to play, I winced a little. I was prepared pain and felt I’d have to interpolate a lot. When the chorus kicked in, I was delighted. The voice… well… you know the voice and guitar both need work, right? The ohs and ahhs could be retired, or even stood against the wall and shot. But this is one of those cases where I’m going to say screw all that, and judge the song. It’s got story. It’s got heart. It’s got ambition. It’s got Lancashire. I love it.

Steve Durand - Original Sin
I’m gonna give Steve bunch of points for chutzpah. And then more points for the speakeasy sound. And then some more for the lyrics. And some more for pulling off a humorous number that doesn’t feel like a novelty song. Oh, hell just have a bunch of points. I want to see this performed. By a big band in white suits. With dancing. And costumes.

Ross Durand - Premiere
Ross Durand doing Edric Haleen’s schtick… you don’t hear that every day. Except this is definitely Ross through and through as well. It lifts you up... it sets you down. This is just a very nicely crafted song.

Glen Raphael - First Time (Phantom Menace)
Glen, if I haven’t said this before, you’ve got one of the most pleasant voices of anyone I personally know. (If I have said it before, fuggedaboutit.) This is how to do novelty. You set it up, you hit the punchline… you satisfy the time requirement and get the hell out of there. I Iike that you don’t overplay the joke. I like the understated humor. You patiently set the hook and started reeling me in with “what I need is decent acting.” This has a really nice and relaxed delivery that I really like.

"BucketHat" Bobby - Free To Be Me
Bob Dylan with a squeezebox. I know… Bobby doesn’t really sound like Bob Dylan, and there’s nothing politically minded about this piece, but I’m still reminded of that style. Maybe it’s the carefree disregard for putting the notes on an actual scale. As for the lyrics, I don’t know why the singer’s attitude has undergone such a transformation, but this isn’t really a narrative song… it’s just celebrating an emotion. I’m good with that… real good. This gets ranked above some frankly nicer sounding entries because of the simple sincerity of the song. I'm older than the average bear (I’m working on my second semi-centennial), and it rings true. There's a moment of release when a person decides to let go of self-imposed stress and just decides to be satisfied. Happiness is a state of mind that you can achieve at any time in any station. Spend too much time desiring the things you haven't achieved, and you can't appreciate the gifts you already have. Ask Buddha.

Governing Dynamics - Fool Me Once
A NEW SOUND from Governing Dynamics! I really needed to read the lyrics for this, as the delivery was indistinct. It’s appropriate for this style, but highlighted the fact that even reading them I didn’t quite connect with them. First betrayal. Not sure what kind of betrayal, but there it is. I could see this or something like it in the soundtrack of some indie film.

James Young - Alone
Maybe I’d score it higher if I felt more connected to it. There are lots of generalities (so general they’re almost cliche). Often that’s a plus because it broadens the potential audience, but here I don’t get the feeling of a narrative. The verses seem disconnected from one another. If you’re going to go with an autobiographical sound, I’d like to learn something, or at least be fooled into thinking I have. Musically, it’s very nice. It’s the sort of thing I’d listen to if I wanted some background ambience that wouldn’t distract me.

Edric Haleen - How It All Began
Talk about specificity in autobiography! All that’s missing is your locker combination! The narrative is excellent, and as usual the rhyming and meter are precise. Very well crafted, as usual. It doesn’t rank higher because, although it explains “Edric” to me, it doesn’t “put the Edric in me”, if you know what I mean (and I know you do). The bare vocal melody works… but honestly, the ending doesn’t grab me. Perhaps it’s intended to leave me hanging, or wanting more. Mostly it left me wanting an ending.

Jailhouse Payback - First Time Caller
BANJO. You get banjo points. OK, here’s a thing. I don’t write these in the order you see them here. I write them as I’m listening, then I shuffle them around, so if you read all the reviews you’ll see that this song answers some criticism of other songs… namely, that if you’re going to go autobiographical, do it with some specificity. Even if it’s made up, make be believe I’ve learned something about “you” (the character). This song does that very well. Now that I’ve said something nice, I’m going to balance it with this: pick a target. You’re calling the radio station, talking to the D.J.. But the first verse is directed at your love. And so are the choruses. Try “her coat”, not “your coat”. and fix the last two lines of the chorus. The last verse is fine, directly addressed.

Sam Rodewald - My First Song Will Be
Well, we did title this “My First! song”, which could be literally interpreted as “my first song”. This sounds like it should accompany hand-drawn animation, maybe in pastels. I don’t know why, but I like it. Sam, I just wish it had an ending. Maybe it will, someday, when you write your first song. ;)

Jon Eric - Perry's Song (Everybody's Waiting)
I’m not fond of the bridge (lame, frame, shame, became). Otherwise, well-crafted.

Rob From Amersfoort - The First Time You Die
Did Adam Sandler sign up under a pseudonym? Actually, I quite like the concept. And this is just quirky enough to make me smile.

Adam Sakellarides - Have You Heard?
I’ve got to be in the right mood for novelty songs (even the ones I write). This could move up or down the list depending on my state of mind. BTW, I love brussel sprouts, too. Broiled, in butter, with a little garlic.

Pigfarmer Jr - Kill A Man
Sort of a song, sort of a rap… I think I’d call it a Colin Mochrie delivery.

Megalodon - My Foolish Mind
The hook is so much better than the verses that it’s almost distracting. Maybe going autobiographical wasn’t the best choice here. Lots of specificity; the verses read like a diary than a song. But the vocals and the instrumentals are nicely arranged and easy to listen to.

Keen Sid - Never Done That Before
It's their first time making out. The vodka's talking. And it's all very casual, which leaves me not very emotionally invested. Musically it’s tight, but to me it sounds like every garage band in every garage in Middle America.

Jeff Brown - The First Time
For a moment I thought this was Governing Dynamics gone acoustic. That’s not terrible… he’s won this thing before. You start out fairly strong, but after the first chorus you sort of fall into a semi-made-up-as-I-went-along sound, though. I’m not really saying that’s what it was, but you didn’t sound confident with the chord changes. Probably few more times playing it through before might help, performance-wise. I’m a little confused by it, and here’s why… the delivery sounds very sincere, but when I pay attention to the hook… “the first time I believed you”, it makes me wonder why this is so melancholy. If your partner is that untrustworthy, it seems to me that other emotions might take the fore. If I "can’t see lies from truth", I must have believed something before now. I know… logic doesn’t always rule in a song, but it does help to sell the emotion if it’s got a good footing.

Ellie Sparrow - Footprints On The Moon
I’m not quite sure what to say about this one. I want to like it more... I do. The quiet voice is nice, but it seems to me that the drums are just out place with soft voice and detract from the minimalist ambience. Maybe a hi-hat alone would have done the trick better. And I think that this one was simply cut short rather than having no ending… a technical glitch that really should have been caught because you submitted in plenty of time. But there are other rounds....

Ben Taggart - Like The First Time
This has a very sincere feel… the sort of thing a girlfriend might hear and go “awwww…”. Unfortunately, for me it wasn’t enough to overcome the execution.

Turtle Fence - First
You got a real turtle to sing this, didn’t you? I’m sorry… I’m not sure this moves much beyond the concept. It's a novelty concept that sound novelty. It could probably lose the last verse.

The Boffo Yux Dudes - First Wurst
It feels like it’s trying very hard to rhyme. I’m not sure it’s trying very hard to do anything else. I hate putting you guys in the basement, but that's the way it worked out. Kill it in the next round.


Brian Gray - First One Here
A completely different sound; clever, funny lyrics; social commentary; historical shout-outs; a danceable family-friendly Latin show tune; AND it meets the challenge… You’d’ve gotten a seriously competitive ranking if this weren’t a shadow. As in top spot. You’d have been the first one here.

Marlon - Take Your Money
DAMMIT, Marlon! How can you be so good and so bad at the same time? I’m going to be completely honest with you… the performance on this makes me want to roll up in a ball and die. But then I suck it up and listen, and the song itself isn’t bad at all. You’ve not given us ONE first time experience, but a dozen, rapid fire. I get this kind of almost Copacabana kind of vibe from it, and once again I imagine a song of yours being played with different instruments (lots of bongos) and different voices and liking it.

Stick around and shadow the next round.

Jailhouse Payback - Get Involved, Rechs
Jailhouse Payback - Special Glasses To Read
Jailhouse Payback - The Chewbacca Thing
Jailhouse Payback - Hot Breakfast On A Weekday
Jailhouse Payback - The Very First Time
Jailhouse Payback - The War To End All Wars
Jailhouse Payback - Pulled Over
Jailhouse Payback - To Sing When He Was Sick
Jailhouse Payback - My First Rap
Nice try, Rechs… I’m not going to review nine freakin’ shadows. But I will say this: the previous holder of the most shadows in a single round went to the Boffo Yux Dudes. And then you’ve come along with not just nine songs, but nine songs that all meet the challenge squarely, communicate a theme, and don’t suck (and I’m fudging on the last one, because it’s supposed to sound like that).  Forget the gauntlet being thrown… The bitch has been slapped.

Not only that, but with our resident rapper out of the competition, you managed to slip in a rap to Represent. OK, so it’s this rap, but still…