Friday, June 25, 2010

Traveling the Tried & True Path on Pandora

You all know how much I adorePandora Radio and the whole idea of discovering music based on what your own likes and dislikes are without any "genres", "user ratings" or what's considered "cool" or "radio-friendly". Back in 2006 I first explained how Pandora works in Follow The Clay Path To New Music and since that first blog I always did at least one from each new Clay album: A Thousand Different Ways, and then two for One My Way Here Part 1 and Part 2 - and imagine my excitement when Pandora added in Clay Aiken's Tried And True.

To refresh your memories - from Pandora's About page:

When was the last time you fell in love with a new artist or song?

At Pandora, we have a single mission: To play only music you'll love.

To understand just how we do this, and why we think we do it really, really well, you need to know about the Music Genome Project®.

Since we started back in 2000, we have been hard at work on the Music Genome Project. It's the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken. Together our team of fifty musician-analysts has been listening to music, one song at a time, studying and collecting literally hundreds of musical details on every song. It takes 20-30 minutes per song to capture all of the little details that give each recording its magical sound - melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics ... and more - close to 400 attributes! We continue this work every day to keep up with the incredible flow of great new music coming from studios, stadiums and garages around the country.

With Pandora you can explore this vast trove of music to your heart's content. Just drop the name of one of your favorite songs or artists into Pandora and let the Genome Project go. It will quickly scan its entire world of analyzed music, almost a century of popular recordings - new and old, well known and completely obscure - to find songs with interesting musical similarities to your choice. Then sit back and enjoy as it creates a listening experience full of current and soon-to-be favorite songs for you.

You can create up to 100 unique "stations." And you can even refine them. If it's not quite right you can tell it so and it will get better for you.

The Music Genome Project was founded by musicians and music-lovers. We believe in the value of music and have a profound respect for those who create it. We like all kinds of music, from the most obtuse bebop, to the most tripped-out drum n bass, to the simplest catchy pop tune. Our mission is to help you connect with the music YOU like.
We hope you enjoy the experience!

So I decided to start my second exploration with one of the songs I've become addicted to on Tried And True - It's Only Make Believe. A quick check of the attributes for this song, Pandora lists:

  • jazz influences
  • acoustic rhythm piano
  • intricate melodic phrasing
  • busy horn section
  • thru composed melodic style
  • acoustic sonority
  • major key tonality
  • mid-tempo swing feel

And right off the bat, the first song Pandora chose to get a feel for what I like was a song by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. I love Brian Setzer! This song was Love Partners In Crime and the attributes they list are: jazz influences, demanding instrumental part writing, intricate melodic phrasing and busy horn section. Starting off great - thumbs up for me!

Next came - Van Morrison. Now everyone who knows me knows how I feel about Van Morrison - but who'da thunk he'd be the second song on my Clay Aiken It's Only Make Believe path? They suggested This Love Of Mine from Van's Magic Time album and it was one of two covers he did on that eclectic album.  It's also one of the few songs Frank Sinatra wrote the lyrics to. I can definitely hear the similarities to It's Only Make Believe. A quick check of the attributes and sure enough - it's got: jazz influences, mid-tempo swing feel, major key tonality and busy horn section but it's also adding in:

  • blues influences
  • dynamic male vocalist. 

Pandora does this to see what other attributes you might like so it can suggest additional music for you. One person may give this a thumbs down and after enough thumbs down to a blues influence, Pandora won't suggest any more. But for me? I'm a blues fan so of course, thumbs up! A quick click on the song title and it brings up additional information about This Love Of Mine. Similar songs . . . well in addition to Pick Up The Tab by Chris Cain Band and Ain't Gonna Worry No More by Wayne Hancock and How Sweet It Is by Michael Buble . . . two Clay Aiken songs show up . . . There's A Kind of Hush and Mack The Knife. Be still my heart . . . Clay and Van. Now that's a connection most people won't make but that's what is so fabulous about Pandora. It's about the music. Not the hype.

Continuing with the blues influence, the next song in Pandora's selection was You Are My Sunshine by Marva Wright, the Blues Queen of New Orleans, and she's terrific.  But Pandora is smart - and they move closer to the attributes we started with by now suggesting I Love Being Here With You. I know this song from one of my Diana Krall albums . . . but this was Queen Latifah's version and no hesitation - thumbs up for sure. I wasn't familiar with her album Trav'lin Light but a quick stop at iTunes added this terrific version to my iPod. Checking in on the song I can see we're back to the jazz influence, busy horn section and mid-tempo swing feel that I found irresistible in It's Only Make Believe.

Sugar Pie by Nelson Adelard is next up and keeps with the attributes originally discussed but also adds some r&b stylings. I've never heard of Nelson Adelard before but with Pandora it's easy to find out background information on the singers they have selected. Wow - how did I miss him? I love this guy but can't find anything on Amazon or iTunes . . . luckily I found his Official Website and was able to pick up some songs there. Now you see why I love Pandora? How else would I have ever heard of Nelson Adelard?

Roomful of Blues brings more blues and electric instrumentation to the mix and I love this next song, Jona Lee Again, it's a group I'm not familiar with (shame on me!) - so I clicked on them to find out more: A nine-piece outfit for the majority of their existence, Roomful of Blues was founded in Westerly, RI, all the way back in 1967, by guitarist Duke Robillard and pianist Al Copley. I really love them - and downloaded the whole Standing Room Only album from iTunes. What a great find!

Obviously there's a reason why I love It's Only Make Believe because song after song is getting a thumbs up and the next one is no exception . . .Duke Robillard. Guess what? He's a founding member of Roomful of Blues! OK - this is making sense. I couldn't buy When Your Lover Has Gone on iTunes but I was able to buy the mp3 from Amazon off the album, Swinging Session with Duke Robillard.

So my path is heading in a very interesting direction and because it's MY path - and mine alone - I'm probably going to get presented with different songs than another person might - even though we'll both start at It's Only Make Believe. It's all based on what I've given a thumbs up or thumbs down to. But I have to admit - I'm way more thumbs up than down on this ride I'm taking.

Next song with a big thumbs up was Keb' Mo' and Wake Up Everybody. This brought back some more r&b influences (and another trip to iTunes) to pick up the entire Peace...Back By Popular Demand which is an album of 10 protest and peace songs from the 1960s and 1970s. For me, a hippie who participated in my fair share of protest marches - this album as a gorgeous rending of some important songs like The Times They Are A Changing and Imagine with some wonderful soul-jazz-funk added to them. Am I glad to have discovered this gem!

After my quick trip to iTunes I'm about ready to try another song off Tried and True. I chose What Kind of Fool Am I - which in general terms seems quite different from It's Only Make Believe. But a quick check of the attributes of this song and I see that there are many similarities as well:

  • jazz influences
  • laid-back swing feel
  • intricate melodic phrasing
  • through composed melodic style
  • prominent percussion
  • acoustic rhythm piano
  • major key tonality
  • orchestral arranging

So my journey starts with Ketty Lester and Lonely People Do Foolish Things. Ketty Lester is a wonderful singer who had a hit in the early 1960s with Love Letters but who's career never really took off. What a treat for Pandora to start off with this little gem who's additional attributes were: r&b influences and vocal-centric aesthetic

Next up is Brian Setzer (remember him from my previous path with It's Only Make Believe?)! This song is Lonely Avenue from the album Songs From Lonely Avenue . . . A Soundtrack to an Unwritten Film . . . an ode to film noir - great album. Lots of similar attributes and of course, thumbs up from me. I love his version and the guitar solo is fabulous.

Beyond the Sea - but not Bobby Darin's version - is up next. Matt Belsante - that's a name I'm not familiar with. He's a young man - only 26 now and this song is from his album Blame It On My Youth, recorded when he was only 23! He has a kind of Michael Buble feel to him but I find his voice and style more authentic. I picked up a couple of tunes off this album from iTunes.

Ohhh - this is fun . . . Harry Nilsson singing Makin' Whoopee!  off his A Little Schmilsson in The Night album and just terrific. It's got the usual attributes but also some new ones: string section beds; a light swing groove and orchestral arranging. I just had to pick up this tune!

Oh look . . . Linda Eder is up next singing This Time Around from her It's No Secret Any More album. Yummy - Linda's version was one my father absolutely adored and played all the time. He discovered her late in his life and her music brought him great pleasure. No hesitation - thumbs up for me!  I guess possibly because Linda's voice is theatrical - the next suggestion is a bit too Broadway for me with Pal Joey's Happy Hunting Horn - but that's an easy fix. Click thumbs down and move on to Bonnie Raitt's Everything That Touches You. This song adds to the jazz influence and string bed attributes with acoustic rock instrumentation and acoustic rhythm guitars. Thumbs up and I'll be eager to see what this new song does to my path . . . but not tonight as I'm ready to close Pandora down for the evening.

I know I'm going to be continuing on these musical journeys discovering fabulous old and new music - old and new artists -- familiar and unfamiliar singers -- all from the kernels there were It's Only Make Believe and What Kind of Fool Am I. And what better way to end this blog than a performance of What Kind of Fool Am I by Clay Aiken at Bringing Broadway Home.

Next trip down Pandora I think I'll check out where Unchained Melody and Mack The Knife lead me. This is addictive!

DISCLAIMER: The photos of Clay Aiken have nothing, zero, nada to do with Pandora or singing these songs or anything . . . they are just simply gorgeous and begged to be used! Thank you to Diana Levine, photographer.


Corabeth said...

Oh my. You must have been in heaven. A Clay Aiken song sandwich with Van Morrison in the middle.

How fitting that Linda Eder came up on your Pandora search since she duets on with Clay on his Tried and True album.

I love his version of It's Only Make Believe too but since our musical tastes tend to differ (with the exception of Clay), I bet Pandora will take me down a completely different but very interesting path too!

dksfriend said...

What a great blog, thanks so much! I used to love Pandora radio but haven't gone there in ages - you've inspired me to make a return visit. I love discovering new music, and Pandora is a great way to do it.

Anonymous said...

Would you consider covering a Nelsen Adelard original on your next album? just curious...