I’d never have thought songs about breaking up could be so sonically joyous if I hadn’t heard Fitz and The Tantrums’ debut extended play album titled Songs For A Break Up Volume I. Fitz And The Tantrums are a Los Angeles band and their debut work is actually downloadable for free off their website. They’re a soul band that recreates the purity of the sound of that genre as it was in the nineteen-sixties and seventies.
Everybody knows about Mexico’s bloody drug cartel wars, the narcotics mafia, executions and the state’s often inadequate attempts to curb the menace. But did you know about the controversial genre of music that all this has spawned? I didn’t till I heard my first narcocorrido or drug ballad. It was a song called Quiseron Tumbar al Jefe (They Wanted to Take Out the Boss). It was in Spanish and was a narrative ballad (corrido) that, I learnt later, talked about two lower level drug gang members, Jose and Ramon, wanting to topple their boss. The song was by a Mexican singer called Ernesto “El Chapo” (the dwarf) Perez who may not be known well outside that country but is one of the biggest pop stars in the region.
I’ve been fooling around for the past week with a website called Let Them Sing It For You. It’s a Swedish website (part of a radio channel) that lets you feed a phrase, a sentence or just arbitrary words and then spews them out as a song. Only, to create the final song for you, the software seeks out each of the words that you fed from a database of popular songs. So, if you write the clichéd blues opening line: “I woke up this morning”, it’ll pull out “I” from, say, a Chris Isaak song, “woke” from maybe a Nickelback song and so on. The end product, depending on the words you’ve fed in, can either be a nice mashed up melody or utter rubbish.
Take a stiff shot of the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Add some more grit, grime and edge. Shake it up well in an old cocktail-shaker and serve it straight up. What you’ll get is what a band called Drive-By Truckers serves up. I first came across the Truckers when I heard their two-CD epic, The Southern Rock Opera, released in 2001. A concept album that explores southern rock music, the album is themed on Lynyrd Skynyrd, the rock band that Ronnie Van Zant founded in 1965. Van Zant and two of his band members were killed in a plane crash in 1977 but not before Lynyrd Skynyrd garnered a huge following—even in India. On my infrequent visits to some Delhi bars I still hear their anthemic song, Free Bird, being played by DJs.