“What kind of music do you like?” A friend asks me that very simple question. I really can’t answer it directly. My standby answer is that I have eclectic tastes. That’s a cop-out for “help, I’m hopelessly confused.”
To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart and his 1964 comment on pornography , “I don’t know what good music is, but I know it when I hear it.”
So I’ll ask you, the reader. What artists or songs are on your playlist(s)? I looked at mine and found Liszt and Lady Gaga, Mozart and the Klezmatics, the Decemberists and Neil Young,…..
I wondered about my musical taste or lack thereof and what these diverse artists had in common.
A quick back story and digression: This is NOT the post I started to write. I am not a multi-tasker. I am barely a single-tasker. (Just ask my wife.) When I write I always have music playing. I choose innocuous piano background music so I am not distracted. My plain vanilla piano background ended and Overflown by Return to Normal began to play. I didn’t really notice because I was thinking deep thoughts. (LOL) Gradually my brilliant insights into whatever I was writing were peppered with images that had nothing to do with my subject. Hence, this rambling post evolved.
My conclusion is that each piece of music paints a picture in my mind. The picture can take shape from the melody, the beat, the lyrics or a combination. I am musically handicapped, if you couldn’t tell from the previous sentence. I know squat about the technicalities. I am like the proverbial hillbilly who falls off the turnip truck and is found browsing the isles of the Louvre. I have no clue how the great artists may have painted their masterpieces but it doesn’t limit my enjoyment. I may be a hick, but I know a purty picture when I see it!
Return to Normal is featured on my Media page and fits this description well. Whenever one of the songs pops up in my shuffling iPod, a canvas starts to take shape. (No, I’m not selling it, it’s my example!)
I was trying to describe its genre and had to go to their website to plagiarise the description. RTN says they are “are firmly in the New Folk/Americana genre” . OK, great. I have no idea what that means. See what I mean… turnip truck time. Here’s my description: “Boy, them songs sure is purty!”
The music stands on its own but the lyrics of each song tell a story. The lyrics (in my Forest Gump-like opinion) are each a poem and a story.
In “Joe Casey” we hear the story of an outsider artist who worked days in the Studebaker plant but then spent his evenings at home with his family painting canvases depicting, from memory, his younger years hunting and fishing in the Missouri Ozarks.
“The Lincoln Highway Song” conjures the mirages, and perhaps the chimeras, of a boring drive on a hot midsummer day down the flat and tired pavement of America’s oldest transcontinental road.
“Beehunter” travels back 60,000 years to the African bush as a man called Oolat discovers that by following a honey-guide bird he can unlock the door to nature’s candy store.
Nearer to Return to Normal’s home in North Judson, Indiana, much nearer, we meet a girl named Chaos and her boyfriend Sin, as they ignore the fruit of the tree of knowledge and instead indulge themselves in a “Peppermint Garden”.
The devastation of the April 11, 1965 tornadoes is recalled, Joseph Campbell style, in “Palm Sunday”. Then there’s the frustrated wanderlust of a boy who grew up on the wrong side of the clouds in “Ode to the Overflown”.
What really stands out for me is the origins of Return to Normal.
I knew it was a small operation and so I asked them how the album was made. Here’s their reply.
Released on their own Quality Hill label, R2N (that’s Marty and Corinne Lucas, it’s okay, they’re married) made Overflown as a new kind of independent artistic production. The sole goal was making the best new folk record they could make, with utter disregard for commercial realities. Recorded entirely in their home over a 13 month period, and mastered by Jon Huxstable in Ashford Britain, using transatlantic Internet file transfers, the project was done on a tiny budget. Dirk Shorter joins them on bass. Old school folk musicians will be pleased that no sequences, loops or other computerized performances were used. On the other hand, elements of electronica, psychedelia and dream pop add spice to the northern, almost Canadian, folk feel. Audiophiles will appreciate the care and precision that has been invested throughout the recording process.
While they are firmly in the New Folk/Americana genre, Return to Normal isn’t derivative of anybody in particular. Avid and omnivorous ‘song-geeks’, they draw from a wide range of influences. Current artists that you might want to mix them in with include: the Decemberists, Iron and Wine, Clem Snide, Great Lake Swimmers, the Weepies and Beck. If you’re a bit older, you might want to play them alongside Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss, early Dylan, or perhaps even Bruce Springsteen in his quieter moods.
That’s their long winded explanation. I just think it’s purty.