We all have our preferences, musically speaking. We all have our categories, our sets of kinds of things we like for different reasons. Sometimes these categories overlap, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we just want to listen to stupid stuff. Sometimes we want depth and complexity. Sometimes we just want background noise that doesn’t intrude on whatever else we’re doing at the time. Sometimes we want raging guitar madness, and sometimes we want voices to ring alone.
I have, for a long time, been a big fan of a certain kind of voice. I prefer richer, effortless sounds to screamy, rough ones. I like range and complexity and control in a voice. There are a lot of things in my music collection that are only there because of the voices involved — the songwriting is sometimes actually quite awful, but I love the voice so much I can forgive the junior high lyrics. I am also a fan of people who are simply good musicians, the sorts of people I’d like to be — people who can play and sing and create their own work with their own talents, people who, while they may have some limitations, are still capable of keeping my interest by virtue of their unique use of their abilities. I’m not talking about virtuousity alone — I mean, it’s terrific that some musicians are abso-friggen’-lutely brilliant at their specialization, but I’m less interested in their mind-blowing brilliance than I am in their simply having a rich and varied set of tools with which to create sounds.
Tracy Bonham has voice that, if it belonged to someone who wasn’t as phenomenally rich in different tools for creation as she happens to be, I probably wouldn’t want to listen to very much. It’s a tone that’s a little thin for my tastes (I like deeper, darker, smoother, less nasal voices as a rule — I don’t really enjoy Bob Dylan’s voice, either, and I still think he’s a phenomenal musician). She is one of those singer/songwriter sorts who I like because she’s a terrific musician with a whole lot of depth and skill. She’s an interesting and thoughtful composer, and she’s a really compelling live performer. She did some great work with Blue Man Group. She did my favorite ever violin-and-percussion cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” She rocks a loop pedal with that fiddle to create something beautiful. She can rock, she can play sweet, she can play a dozen damn instruments, and she obviously knows her craft very, very well. She is a teacher who loves what she teaches, and it shows.
So, of course, I had try to to cover something of hers. Problem: I am not nearly as phenomenal a musician as she is, so figuring out how to cover her stuff turns out to be beyond my meager skills most of the time. Still, I thought I’d take a shot at something simple: Whether You Fall. It’s really sparse in the original recording — piano, accenting the voice rather than driving it, and not much else (some additional sounds build in later in the song). It slowly grows, but it never gets huge. It’s sort of naked, really, which is a lot of what I like about it.
I can’t play the piano*, so I faked it on the guitar. I didn’t get the chords right, but I think the — ehem — adjustments I had to make sort of worked a little.
I really had to fight my tendency to try to fill more sounds in. I seem to have a horror of silences sometimes, and I know that on this one, I just struggled constantly with the fear that the vocal was too bare, too exposed. After all, it’s supposed to be exposed, and for some reason I just kept not wanting to let it be. Weird.
*Every time in the past when I’ve talked about an instrument I don’t have, I seem to have shown up playing that instrument in a later blog entry. Let me assure you that I have absolutely no intention of learning to play the piano. A body’s got to draw the line somewhere, and that’s where I’m drawing it. Also: as long as Garage Band has drum loops, I refuse to learn to do percussion. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Two or three years from now, when I’m stomping a drum while playing the keyboard, please feel free to point back at this blog entry and hit me up with the Nelson Muntz.