Marcin Patrzalek and Bach's Toccata

As a guitarist, I like Marcin Patrzalek. A lot. In fact, I prefer Marcin far more than Tim Henson of Polyphia; Marcin keeps me endlessly entertained, while Henson starts to sound the same after a while. (I have the same complaint about Yngwie, but I digress.) Nevertheless, a friend recently sent me a video of Marcin performing his version of Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata in D minor, which is a favorite piece of mine (and most people around Halloween), and you can watch the video below.

First things first - I'm not sure why Marcin decided to adopt his new "emo look," but it's not working for him.

Having said that, I should clarify that this is NOT Bach's "Toccata" on "one guitar" as the title suggests, for two primary reasons:

  1. Marcin's piece highlights a few themes from Bach's "Toccata," but it barely follows Bach's original, therefore this video should have been titled "Variations on Bach's Toccata."
  2. There are very clearly several layers that were overdubed, so this isn't on "one guitar" as advertised.

Don't get me wrong - I've seen enough of Marcin's live videos to know that he could play this piece on one guitar - and probably with one hand - but he chose not to, so the piece is mislabeled.

Setting those minor nitpicks aside - this is a great rendition. Marcin's approach to the piece is imaginative and original, and I loved his use of various percussion slaps throughout his variations on the theme.

Once again Marcin hit a home run in my estimation, and I stand by my original statement that I really like Marcin Patrzalek; he is inarguably one of the best percussive guitarists on the planet.

Why I Prefer Tina Setkic over Yngwie Malmsteen

On the one hand, you have Yngwie Malmsteen, who is inarguably the most arrogant SOB in modern rock guitar, playing his "Arpeggios from Hell" in the following video while acting like he's some sort of badass:

While on the other hand, you have the teenage Tina S playing the same solo in the following video, and she's playing it arguably better while looking like she's bored to tears:

It's easy to see why I think Tina is far more talented than Yngwie...

Unsolicited Thoughts about Tim Henson's New Guitar

I like the band Polyphia, and their piece "G.O.A.T" is nothing short of brilliant. I was completely blown away by that song when I first heard it a couple years ago. (And I loved Rick Beato's break down on that piece, but then I'm a huge fan of Rick Beato anyway.)

One of Polyphia's guitarists, Tim Henson, does some amazing things technically and musically that I've never heard before and never personally considered when playing the guitar. I have mentioned in other musings that I rate musicians on the TOAD scale, where TOAD is Talent, Originality, Affect, and Durability. Watching Henson play guitar, it's abundantly clear that he has Talent and Originality oozing out of every pore. While his Affect on other players remains to be seen, I think that Durability within the industry is quite likely.

With that in mind, I was interested when some of the musicians that I know posted a video from Henson that was titled "Playing my new guitar." Several people made comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, which I assumed was due to Henson's arsenal of innovative techniques. Without forcing you to suffer through more of my descriptive rhetoric, here is the video in question.

Regardless of my feelings for Polyphia, my final opinion for Henson's "playing my new guitar" video was... yawn. Don't get me wrong - for the first 30 seconds or so I was amazed, as I was the first time that I heard Polyphia. But let's be honest - after the first minute of Henson's "new guitar" video, you've heard pretty much everything you're going to hear. The rest of it is just the same thing, over and over, ad nauseum.

Yes - Henson's technique is amazing. Yes - his chops are off the map. And yes - I'm a guitar player who can't play what he plays, but to be clear - my comments are not coming from a position of "I can't do that so I'm just lashing out." On the contrary, Henson's "new guitar" video is almost nine minutes of unstructured, semi-repetitive guitar ramblings that wears itself out long before the conclusion of video.

In a way, Henson's video reminded me of why I dislike a lot of Yngwie Malmsteen's playing. Oh sure, Yngwie is one of the fastest guitar players alive, but that's precisely his problem - eventually an overabundance of self-aggrandizing displays of technical wizardry begin to devolve into a murky sludgefest of technically proficient ear slime. In that sense, I don't like some people's comparisons of Henson to Hendrix, because Hendrix wasn't just an innovator - he was a songwriter. (Though Hendrix often descended into his own pools of ear slime, too.) Henson's video, on the other hand, falls far short of "songwriting"; after the first few minutes, it starts to sound like... noise.

While I realize that art is always in the eye (or ear) of the beholder, in my opinion there's more to music than nine chaotic minutes of slapping the crap out of a guitar. To be clear, I listen to a lot of music that's all over the place from a structure point of view, but there should be SOME sense of where a piece going. And if there's no direction, then a piece has to evolve. I've seen Eddie Van Halen perform a 12-minute solo, and it was entertaining for every minute of it - because Eddie moved on from idea to idea.

Think of Jazz for a moment. I've heard some phenomenal Jazz soloists take off on tangents of technical brilliance that filled long passages of time, but those soloists are usually backed by something underneath that gives it meaning - and quite often one soloist passes off to another, but the underlying essence is there, however veiled it may be. As an example, consider Al Di Meola's "Mediterranean Sundance"; there are technical chops to spare, plenty of guitars getting slapped around, and no shortage of chaos when necessary. However, there's far more to see and hear than what you'll see in Henson's video.

Taking this discussion closer to Henson's "new guitar" video, I've gone to see some brilliant fingerstyle guitar players, and Leo Kottke initially comes to mind. I often think there's something wrong with the way Kottke thinks, because his pieces are underscored by a tumultuous maelstrom of mismatched time and key signatures with brilliant displays of technical prowess soaring over top. For that matter, I would find Antoine Dufour's "Déjà Vu" from several years ago or Andy McKee's "Drifting" from 15 years ago far more entertaining than Henson's video; both of those guitarists were using a lot of the same skills and ideas that Henson was manifesting, without managing to get on my nerves or bore me to tears.

So my apologies to my friends who posted the link to Henson's "playing my new guitar video" - I certainly didn't mean to rain on their parade. But Henson's video reminds me of what a music critic once said was wrong with Emerson, Lake and Palmer when they entered the studio: they desperately needed someone else to tell them when enough was enough. If Henson trimmed his "my new guitar" down to 60 seconds and dropped an intro & outro on it, I'd have been far more impressed.


PS - My sincere apologies to Tim Henson. If you ever read this, I still think you're great - even though I didn't like your "new guitar" video.

Transcribing Girlfriend in a Coma by The Smiths

It's been a while since I posted a transcription, so I though that I'd share something that I transcribed a while ago but never got around to posting on my website. With that in mind, today's offering is one of my favorites from back in the 1980s: "Girlfriend in a Coma" by The Smiths. I'll admit, the topic sounds a little creepy, but it's a catchy song that I've loved ever since I first heard it. To be honest, The Smiths released a lot of music in a genre that a friend of mine collectively labeled as "Depression Pop." If you listened to enough of The Smiths' albums, you'd swear that nothing ever goes right for their singer, Morrissey. (Seriously. It's like listening to Eeyore sing.)

One of my favorite guitarists is Johnny Marr, who was the driving force behind The Smiths' unique sound. Marr has a great way of creating layered textures with his guitar sound that is very reminiscent of another favorite guitarist, Matt Slocum. (I might say more about Matt in a post at some other time, but today is all about Marr.)

Without further ado, here's my transcription of "Girlfriend in a Coma."

Here are my notes about this transcription:

  • Probably the biggest omission from my transcription are some really cool volume swells that Marr added as layers to the piece. Those would have been easy to add to the transcription, but I just didn't feel like it.
  • I didn't spend a lot of time trying to dial in the synth sound on the choruses; I'm pretty sure the notes are fairly accurate, but as always - I spent far more time trying to get the guitar parts to sound correct.

As always, this is a free transcription. So if you're upset that I left something out, then it sucks to be you.

NOTE: See https://youtu.be/3GhoWZ5qTwI for the official video for this song.

Hipshot Bass Xtender on a 6-String Bass

I just finished modding my Ibanez 6-string bass with a Bass Xtender from Hipshot Products; having Drop-A tuning at the flip of a switch is great.

I've been using Bass Xtenders on two of my 4-string basses for a while now, and since I play in Drop-D for 99% of the time, modding my basses with these tuning keys have been some of the best investments that I've made for my playing style.

That being said, it took me a while to get around to modding my 6-string, but now that I have, I wonder why it took me so long.

hipshot-bass-xtender-on-a-6-string-bass

Gear Review: Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard

Several years ago, Rush’s Alex Lifeson partnered with Gibson Guitars to create the Custom Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess. The specs for these guitars looked amazing, but they had a limited production run, and the starting price tag of $5,499 was more than cost-prohibitive for most guitarists. Shortly thereafter, Gibson released the Alex Lifeson 40th Anniversary of Rush Les Paul Axcess, which had an even more limited production run, and a heftier starting price tag of $6,699. Needless to say, few guitarists could scrape together that kind of cash, regardless of how amazing the guitars were.

But then a strange thing happened at the January 2020 NAMM show: an Epiphone version of the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess turned up rather unexpectedly among the collection of other guitars that Epiphone had on display. The following video from the great folks at Andertons Music Company shows a pair of reviewers who stumble across the guitar (which occurs at 16:47 in the video). This unofficial announcement generated a fair amount of chatter within the guitar community, based on the assumption that there might be an affordable version of the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess released sometime in the future. However, COVID19 turned the year upside down, and news of this guitar faded away into the background while everyone was focused on the pandemic.

After a year-and-a-half of silence about this guitar, Alex Lifeson broke the news on his website on June 15th, 2021, that Epiphone had finally released the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard; which promptly sold out everywhere in the country. Nevertheless, I managed to get my hands on one, which arrived last Saturday, and I'll be using it for today's review.

Alex-Lifeson-headstock-FINAL-1024x683

Anyone who's been reading my blogs knows that I am a sold-out, card-carrying fanboy for Rush, but this guitar has several features that set it apart from other guitars on the market. With that in mind, even the guitarists who don't like Rush might want to take a moment to consider this guitar if they're in the market for a new axe. (And let's be honest, that includes just about every guitarist, doesn't it?)

Since its arrival, I've been putting it through the paces, and here are the big ticket items that people should know about.

Graph Tech Floyd Rose Bridge with Piezo Pickups

This guitar has the Graph Tech Floyd Rose bridge. There are a few Les Pauls with Floyd Rose bridges, so while that might not seem unique, here's the differentiator: the Graph Tech bridge has piezo pickups built into it, so at the flick of a knob, you're an acoustic, or an electric, or both at the same time. And the sound is amazing.

alex-lifeson-axcess_front

ProBucker™ humbucker Pickups

The stock pickups for the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard are Epiphone's ProBucker™ pickups, which designed as an homage the classic Gibson PAF pickups, and the sound is quite good. I compared it against a set of Seymour Duncan Invader pickups that I have in a modded Les Paul, and I have to admit - the ProBuckers seemed to hold their own pretty well.

epiphone-probucker-clipped

Split Coil Pickup Switching

The traditional bridge and neck pickups are configured so that pulling up on the volume knob for either pickup splits the coils, so you can switch from a double-coil humbucker sound to a single-coil sound while playing. In other words, it's a Les Paul that can sound like a Strat, or a Les Paul, or a combination of the two.

With that in mind, the range of pickup configuration possibilities are: full-bridge only, half-bridge only, full-bridge with full-neck, half-bridge with full-neck, full-bridge with half-neck, half-bridge with half-neck, full-neck only, half-neck only, piezo only, or piezo blended with any of the other full/half pickup configurations.

alex-lifeson-axcess-hardware-500_500

Separate Output Jacks

The guitar has two output jacks. If you use a single output jack, then the piezo and humbuckers are wired through that. However, if you use the second output jack, you can send the piezo and humbuckers to separate effects/amps, thereby allowing you to craft a totally different sound for each output.

Sculpted Body Design

The Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard features a traditional arched top of flame maple over a mahogany body, which should be familiar to anyone who's played a Les Paul. However, another feature that sets this guitar apart from the competition is that the neck and back have been sculpted like a Strat, which makes it easier to reach highest frets, and it makes the guitar a pound or two lighter, and it's also the most comfortable Les Paul you've ever played.

alex-lifeson-axcess-back-neck-500_500

Thankfully this guitar didn't have the traditional Les Paul pickguard attached, which most guitarists remove and toss in the recycle bin anyway.

Final Touch

It might seem like a small detail to have, but this is a signature edition, so it was nice to see that the truss rod cover carried Alex's signature (just like the Gibson model).

alex-lifeson-axcess-neck-side-500_500

A Kind of Demo

I tried to find a video on YouTube of Alex Lifeson switching back and forth between the humbuckers and piezo pickups, but every video that I found where Alex was playing one of his Custom Gibson Les Paul Axcess guitars he was only using the humbuckers.

However, I did manage to find a video where Alex was playing one of his older Paul Reed Smith (PRS) guitars that had a similar setup with humbuckers and piezo pickups. With that in mind, consider the first minute of the following live video where Rush is playing their song "Driven," which should give you an idea of what you can do with this concept. On the verses, Alex is just using the humbuckers for the electric sound. On the pre-choruses, it's just the piezos for the acoustic sound. On the choruses, you can hear the humbuckers and piezo pickups layered, which adds a huge amount of depth to the wall of sound that Alex is creating.

So... yes, I am aware that the video has Alex playing a PRS, not a Les Paul. Gibson designed Alex's Custom Les Pauls a few years after that video was created. Nevertheless, as I mentioned earlier, this should give you an idea of what you can do with this guitar.

Parting Thoughts

I was glad that I was able to get my hands on one of these guitars for a review before they were sold out. (Although I expect that there will be more guitars hitting the market before too long.)

That being said, the Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard is an incredibly versatile guitar. If I were to have any second thoughts about this guitar they would be pretty minor.

For example, if I were buying one of these guitars today, I would much prefer the Royal Crimson finish featured on the Gibson Custom Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess, or the "R40" Ruby finish featured on the Gibson Alex Lifeson 40th Anniversary of Rush Les Paul Axcess. However, as of this writing, the Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard is only available in Viceroy Brown finish, which is reminiscent of the classic Gibson Tobacco Sunburst finish.

One last nitpick is a personal preference: I prefer Gibson Speed knobs over the Gold Top Hat knobs that come with this guitar. But as I said, that is a minor, personal preference, so I cannot count that against the guitar. Nevertheless, if I had this guitar and the inclination, that’s a mod that I would probably make.

All in all, the Epiphone Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess Standard is a great guitar that could easily find a home in any guitarist's arsenal. Even if they're not a Rush fan.

RIP Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)

This news came as an absolute shock when I heard it earlier today: Eddie Van Halen, Hall of Fame Guitarist Who Revolutionized Instrument, Dead at 65.

Like thousands of other guitarists, Eddie Van Halen (EVH) was my first guitar hero. His band, Van Halen, hit the music scene in 1978, which was the same time as I began to play guitar. I spent countless hours learning dozens of Van Halen's songs on the guitar and playing them live at various gigs throughout my younger days.

Eddie-Van-Halen

There are a handful of guitarists who I would say profoundly influenced my life as a musician, and EVH would easily be in my top five. EVH was a true pioneer, and his influence wasn't just on me; I think EVH inspired more guitarists than any other guitarist in history - even more than Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page. As far as music in general is concerned, you could probably make the argument that few musicians in all of history have had as profound an impact, both for their instrument and their genre.

EVH's signature solo "Eruption" was the sound that launched a thousand imitators. While some might make the argument that this guitar player or that guitar player played this or that solo better than EVH, the fact remains that - for all intents and purposes - EVH did it first, and he did it better than anyone before him. EVH was a true innovator, whose technical skills and unique approach to the guitar was directly responsible for thousands of other people's careers.

I'm a big fan of Rick Beato's YouTube Channel, and a couple of years ago he created the following video, which describes Eddie's profound influence on guitar playing and rock music better than I could ever do.

EVH struggled with a myriad of health and substance abuse issues for decades, and it was great to hear that he was clean and sober from 2008 onward. But still - I think the years of physical abuse finally took their toll on him, and I was deeply saddened to hear that EVH lost his battle with cancer today at the young age of 65.

As I have grown older, it has been difficult to say goodbye to my childhood heroes. Chris Squire of Yes passed away in 2015, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of ELP both passed away in 2016, and Neil Peart of Rush passed away in January of this year.

Despite the fact that I never met any of these musical influences, I somehow feel like I've lost several close friends. That isn't supposed to happen. Heroes are supposed to ride off into the sunset. They're supposed to be immortal. Heroes aren't supposed to die like ordinary people.

RIP EVH. You will be sorely missed.


POSTSCRIPT:

If I was to pick my top five six guitar influences they would be (in no particular order): Eddie Van Halen, Alex Lifeson, Steve Howe, David Gilmour, Randy Rhoads, and The Edge. While I have been influenced by dozens of guitarists, I can honestly say that something from each of the guitarists that I listed shows up in my playing almost every time I play the guitar. (For more about that train of thought, see my A Few of My Favorite Guitar Solos post from several years ago.)

A Few Thoughts about Trevor Rabin

Trevor Rabin slowly emerged as one of my favorite guitarists. I first learned of him when he was working with Manfred Mann in the early 1980s. (Thankfully I had missed his debacles with the glam rock band Rabbitt.) When the song "Owner of a Lonely Heart" came out in 1983 and became a huge hit, I wondered what the heck Rabin was doing with Yes, and how badly would he ruin the band. However, that feeling evaporated as I heard more of the 90125 album. Oh sure, that particular musical offering was more about creating "pop music" than "progressive rock," but still - Rabin had some SERIOUS musical chops.

Yes

When I saw Yes in 1984 during the Tucson stop of their 90125 tour, Rabin upped his game to a whole new level in my estimation. He completely nailed songs from both catalogs of Yes' music - both the old and the new. In fact, I much preferred Rabin's live versions of classic Yes songs like "And You and I" and "Yours Is No Disgrace" over Steve Howe's live versions. Rabin was far more meticulous than Steve Howe at getting all of the guitar parts right in a live setting. On the other hand, Steve Howe seemed to wander all over the neck in a never-ending stream of musical ramblings on every live Yes recording, which often sounded like he was almost drunk. However, Rabin also added some unique parts of his own to those vintage pieces; I had to admit that Rabin added parts where Howe would never have thought to add them, and in the end I thought Yes' music with Rabin's additions were sometimes better than the originals.

After the Tucson concert had ended, a few friends and I met Yes backstage, and Trevor Rabin was one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. After our group of friends had an informal meeting and autograph session with the entire band, most of the band members wanted to climb into their waiting limousines and speed off to their hotel for the night. But Rabin was involved in a great discussion about music with my friend Larry and me, so Rabin waved them off and said he'd catch up with the rest of the band later.

Larry was the drummer for a band that we were both in at the time, and our discussion with Rabin was simply about music - and that's it. Rabin wasn't acting like a rock star, he wasn't basking in the adulation of fans, and we weren't showering him with adoration and compliments. The three of us were talking about guitar effects, and production techniques, and songwriting, and about music in general. In short, this was simply three normal guys having a normal conversation about their favorite subject.

During the course of our discussion, I told Rabin that I thought he was a great replacement for Steve Howe, who was the predominant guitarist for Yes during the 1970s. I immediately sensed that I had touched on a sensitive subject, so I let it drop. However, some years later I was reading an interview with Rabin in a guitar magazine, and he said that the hardest thing for him while he was a member of Yes was constantly being compared with Howe. That's not what I meant to do, and I felt badly that I had been part of that experience for him.

A few years later I joined the US Army, and by the late 1980s I was stationed in Germany. If you've read any of my military-related posts, you'll know that I spent a lot of time out in the woods chasing bad guys. However, when I wasn't working, you would find me curled up with a Tom Clancy or Michael Crichton novel, and quite often I was listening to Trevor Rabin's Can't Look Away album. Once again, it was more of a pop music album, which was different than my general preference for progressive rock. Still, I had this album on cassette, and I nearly played it to death during my tenure there. The following video features the song "Something to Hold Onto" from that album, and it's a great example of just how weird an 80s rock music video could be.

In 1991, I caught Yes on their Union tour in Frankfurt, Germany. During this concert, I saw Rabin save the show when the audio for Howe's guitar dropped out during "And You and I." For some reason, Howe's sound vanished from the mix during the acoustic breakdown in the middle of the song. Rabin had been standing off to the side, but when Howe's guitar disappeared, Rabin jumped over to his pedal board, hit a couple buttons, and came up with a plausible acoustic sound to finish the section, with barely a moment or two of dead time. Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I eventually found a video of that show. The camera was predominantly focused on Squire and Anderson so you can't see everything that's happening, but you can hear it. If you watch the following video, you can hear Howe's guitar disappear around the 20-second mark, followed by Rabin's guitar filling in the gap for Howe a second or two later.

Rabin eventually left Yes, and he spent several years writing soundtracks for movies. (IMDB currently lists him with 60 credits as a film composer.) However, in 2012 Rabin released his Jacaranda solo album, where he showed that he still hasn't lost his touch as a guitarist. In addition, the following video shows that he hasn't lost his touch with odd music videos, either.

In what would seem like a rare moment in musical history, the surviving members of Yes put their pasts behind them and teamed up to play a couple of their classic songs when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. (Quick side note: Chris Squire, the longtime bassist of Yes, had recently passed away, and Geddy Lee from Rush filled in for him.) It was nice to see Rabin back with the group, and to be honest - the following video shows that Steve Howe isn't aging well; his guitar chops are starting to fade, and he made several embarrassing mistakes. On the other hand, Rabin looks like he's having a ball, and he seems to have a great musical rapport going on with Geddy Lee. (Hmm. Perhaps the two of them should do a side project together?)

One day, I'd like to meet Trevor Rabin again and apologize for my poor choice of words from when I met him back in 1984. It's a poor excuse, but I was only 18 years old at the time. I honestly meant what I said to be a compliment, and I didn't realize how Rabin would receive that. Who knows? Maybe some day I'll get the chance.


POSTSCRIPT:

On a totally unrelated piece of trivia, the writer and director Joss Whedon is a big fan of Yes, and I recently learned he named his Mutant Enemy Productions company after the acoustic breakdown section of Yes' song "And You and I."

MutantEnemy

The lyrics for that section of the song are:

"Sad preacher nailed upon the colored door of time.
Insane teacher be there, reminded of the rhyme.
There'll be no mutant enemy we shall certify;
Political ends as sad remains will die.
Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you."

You can store that piece of trivia awesomeness for a rainy day...

Christian Progressive Rock is a Small but Necessary Genre

I mean no disrespect to anyone - including my wife - but I personally find the majority of what is called "worship music" within the church to be insufferably boring when heard outside of a formal church service.

99% of the time that music is based around some arrangement of the I ii IV and V chords, with the occasional vi chord to mix things up.

I'd also say that 90% of the time that music has a time signature of 4/4, with another 7% of 3/4, and the remaining 3% being mostly of 6/8.

Adding insult to injury, most of the contemporary "worship" lyrics are utterly pedestrian and predictable. You could take a list of about 100 words from popular "worship songs" and write them on 3x5 cards, then toss them on a table and arrange them in some sort of random order and you'd pretty much have recreated the next Chris Tomlin "hit."

There was a time that I was working on an "Instant Worship" website as a joke, which would have used something akin to a "Mad Libs" type of algorithm to kick out random lyrics with bogus chord charts based on everything I have mentioned in the preceding paragraphs.

Suffice it to say, if it were not for prog I would have gone crazy years ago. I accepted Jesus in my late teens in 1984, and I spent years listening to a conglomeration (or conflagration?) of Christian music's "rock music" offerings. Bands like Petra were the powerhouses in that genre, and yet - I had been listening to Rush and Yes and Genesis and a host of prog bands before my salvation; Petra was nowhere near the level of musicianship or complex arranging as secular proggers.

I had heard of Phil Keaggy in the late 70s, but it wasn't until I heard King's X in the early 90s that I thought, "Wow - a Christian band with serious prog skills." (Yes, I know King's X seriously backslid in later years, but in their heyday they were awesome.)

Iona and some other Christian proggers came along later, and several pieces from Iona's catalog definitely hit the mark. Although I know several prog fans who grow quickly tired by their Celtic influence. (Irish music doesn't appeal to everyone. Although I'm of Irish heritage so it works for me.) But still - I often feel that there's an itch that I just can't scratch when I think about Christian music. (Which, by the way, is the only music I buy.)

These days I have been particularly impressed by several of the spin off projects and musicians that are operating with Neal Morse's realm of influence. See the following video for an example of what I mean, although that particular song is more a pop/rock piece than prog until you get to the bridge, but having seen them live, holy cow - amazing musicians.

Some of the projects involving Matt Smith of Theocracy are also great. See the following video for Project Aegis as an example.

With all of that being said, more often than not I find that I cannot kick back and enjoy most of what exists within the banal realms of what Christian music typically has to offer, but I can get totally lost in a great prog piece of music.


UPDATE:

Much of what was written above was extracted from a post that I had made in the Christian Progressive Rock Online Gathering (CPROG) group on Facebook. Someone challenged my statements about Iona, to which I replied:

"Pieces here and there from Iona's catalog definitely hit the mark; that's why I intentionally singled them out. Although I know several prog fans who grow quickly tired by their Celtic influence. (Irish music doesn't appeal to everyone. Although I'm Irish so it works for me.)

However, if you look at the brilliance behind albums like
Fragile from Yes, or Lamb Lies Down on Broadway from Genesis, or Brain Salad Surgery from ELP, or Permanent Waves from Rush, etc., I can think of no albums in their entirety from the Christian Prog genre that approach those masterpieces. Because if they did, they'd also be popular outside of the incredibly tiny genre that is Christian Prog. So to reiterate: Iona is some of the best that Christian Prog has to offer, but overall - the Christian Prog genre is seldom everything that it could (or should) be.

PS - I should add that I have everything that Iona produced, to include their live videos. As far as Iona is concerned, I am quite the fanboy, and one of my regrets is that I never had the chance to see them live."

And then, much to my horror, Dave Baindbridge - one of the musical visionaries behind Iona - posted the following:

Thats' great Robert. Have you heard my albums Celestial Fire, and Veil of Gossamer? Both are more 'progressive' than most of my work with Iona. https://www.musicglue.com/iona/shop/categories/dave-bainbridge

I had to quickly re-read all of my earlier statements to see if I'd insulted Iona in any way... which I probably did. Not by intention, of course, but still... crap.

Sad smile

Yup, there's nothing quite like inadvertently insulting one of your favorite musicians in a public forum to remind yourself that anyone can read what you say.

Transcribing Shallow by Porcupine Tree

One of the things that I like about certain pieces of music is "groove," which is hard to describe in words - but you'll know a good groove when you hear one. Several of the pieces that I have transcribed in the past fall into the "great groove" category, which is largely why I transcribed them in the first place; the groove of each respective piece got under my skin, and today's transcription clearly belongs in that collection.

Without further discussion, here's my transcription of "Shallow" by Porcupine Tree. (See https://youtu.be/tIgONIbYSyY for the original song.)

Here are my notes about this transcription:

  • The most-glaring omission from this transcription is the organ part; it's featured in the second verse and in other places, and I didn't bother to transcribe it because - I didn't want to. So there.
  • I tried to dial in the piano part, but even I can tell that it's not perfect. To be honest, this transcription was more about the guitar/bass/drums.

FWIW - I originally transcribed this song several years ago, but I was thinking about it the other day, and I decided to revisit it. After making a bunch of changes, I decided to post the revised version as a blog, which will hopefully help someone in the future.

That's all for now. Enjoy!