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ROBERT MATTER: Blog

In my last blog I spoke about my enjoyment from listening to new music by the younger performers that are on the local music scene these days. I have enjoyed going to the many Open Mic venues throughout the Omaha/Council Bluffs area being exposed to all sorts of styles, abilities and lyrical subject matter.

On occasion I also venture into venues that showcase one or two performers or groups for the evening. Last Friday evening I stopped into a quaint coffeehouse in the Old Market area of Omaha called Sozo Coffeehouse. When I walked down the stairs and entered the cellar like room I was immediately taken back to the small coffeehouses I used to play during the late 60’s and early 70’s. The painted brick walls reminded me of “good old days” when I used to hang out in the Old Market before it was the bustling commercial enterprise that it has now become. The old energy still resides in those walls. I felt at home.

I went to Sozo’s for the expressed reason of listening to The Chicago Street Experiment and Jack McLaughlin. I had never heard either of these performers so I came with no expectations as to what I would be listening to or seeing.

The opening act was The Chicago Street Experiment. A two piece group consisting of Lukas Olson on acoustic guitar and vocals and Alex Pachman on drums. Lukas is a tall youngster with a haircut that reminded me of the George Harrison Beatle Bob when The Beatles first arrived in the U.S.A. Since George is my favorite Beatle Lukas already scored a couple of points with me. His voice has a clear crisp quality that is pleasing to the ear. One song he performed was called “Rabbit Hunting” which sounded to me to have a Frank Zappa influence. Later I realized the shirt Lukas was wearing had Frank Zappa’s face on it so I guess my musical ears didn’t let me down.

The Chicago Street Experiment was followed by a young man named Jack McLaughlin. From the beginning of the first song he definitely had my ear. Being a musician myself I always like to watch the hands of the musicians on stage to see how they are doing things and due to someone sitting directly in front of me I wasn’t able to watch his hands. Plus I heard a drum beat but there was no one playing the drums. So I moved to a different position where I could get a better look at Jack and what he was doing. In doing so, I notice that Jack had a drum pedal and drum under his foot and was keeping time that way. It added a nice touch. Lukas Olson sat in on bass and a lead guitarist that Jack referred to as Nick Frat filled out the group.

Jack played song after song with minimum discussion in between. The songs consisted of a nice range of styles and rhythms. As a fellow songwriter, I always pay very close attention to the lyrics of a song and I was impressed with his rhyming patterns and songwriting structure. I purchased his first recorded CD and he very graciously gave me an advanced copy of his new soon to be released CD.

There are two songs on his self-titled CD that I find myself drawn to in the sense that they keep my attention through to the very end. One of them is called “My Own Best Friend”. It contains lyrics that speak of a maturity from a young heart. Sometimes we realize that living with and by ourselves plays a large role in how we learn to live with others.

In “Hand To Hold” - Jack declares that on our journey through life we find that we cannot do everything by ourselves. There are times when we need to reach out to those who, for various reasons, have come into our lives …maybe for a lifetime or just for a season. Either way, we don’t travel down the path completely by ourselves. Sometimes it is important to have a hand to hold.

Inside the CD cover someone (I am assuming it was Jack) had written “What is track 11?”. The 11th track is not listed on the CD credits. Maybe because it didn’t have a title or it was placed on the CD as a hidden track. Maybe the question was there to encourage the listener to suggest a title for the song. The chord pattern is reminiscent of a typical tried and true chord pattern used in the early 60’s. The lyrics are about the future. So, I see those two elements coming together. The chord pattern is a formidable foundation that has been around for a long long time. The lyrics speak of a relationship that is to be. One that is symbolically built on a traditional foundation…one that is proven to work..one that has stood the test of time. The lyrics are a message of hope. Hope and conviction of finding that one who will complete the fullness of the longing that we all have within us. To reach that point of completeness and contentment. The assurance and certainty comes through in Jack’s voice and the power of the words he is singing. So, if Jack is asking for a title, my suggestion would be to title the song “No Turning Back”.

This blog has run on way longer than I intended. I should apologize but I won’t. I love talking about music, especially the songwriting process, and will be talking about it until the day I die. Music is worth talking about. So when you are out and about listen real closely to the musicians performing at these venues. If you like what you hear, talk to others about it. Remember the name of the group or the solo performer. Tell the musicians that you enjoyed what they did. Believe me, they want to know. Buy their music if it is available. Take it home and listen to it. Pass it around to your friends. That way, the music will live on and on and be an influence to the people who will be performing music thirty and forty years from now. It is a continuing chain and we are all links in that chain. I am proud to say I am one of those links and connected to a multitude of musicians that I admire and respect. Go listen to some live music within the next couple of weeks. Let me know in the comments section what you heard and what you thought of the music.

And thanks to the Sozo Coffeehouse, The Chicago Street Experiment and Jack McLaughlin for a pleasant night of music.

Talk to you again, real soon. Thanks for reading.

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As a musician one of the things I really enjoy is meeting, getting to know and listening to other musicians perform. Sometimes when I myself have a heavy schedule of performing I am not able to have the opportunity to seek out live entertainment. When I am able to do it I almost always enjoy the experience. It is a good feeling to be able to sit and relax while listening to someone else perform for a change.

Through the years (and there have been many more than I care to count) I have had the good fortune to hear many great performers. From international recording artists to mainstream festival performers to traveling singer songwriters I have witnessed a full range of musical talent.

One thing I find particularly exciting is listening to much of the new music being written and performed by young up and coming singer songwriters. I think back to my early days of playing my guitar and singing anywhere I could. I practiced songs and ached for the opportunity to sing them to someone….anyone.

When I look at these youngsters (and I don’t say that in a demeaning way) I get excited for them. It seems that today they are so far advanced in their playing abilities, songwriting skills and ability to find venues where they can perform. I think that has a lot to do with the technology available to them through the internet.

When I was starting out learning to play the guitar I had a guitar instruction book that taught me how to play the chords on the guitar. Then once I learned the chords I had to decide what song to play. Once I decided that, I had to listen to a recording of the song and try to figure out what the chords were and at the same time write down the lyrics so I could memorize them. The cost of purchasing a music book that included the songs I wanted to learn to play ensured that I would have to rely on my “musical ear” to achieve the desired result. But it wasn’t an easy task. I feel fortunate that I was given the gift of a good musical ear. Luckily it made the process a little easier for me. Now that I look back on the whole process I realize there was a problem that didn’t even occur to me at that time. And that was the fact that I was limited in my exposure to guitar playing technique. I had to find other guitar players who were further along in the craft than I was so I could glean from them what they knew and apply that to my own frail abilities. Finding others who could play the guitar better than me was not the problem. There were plenty out there that fit that bill. The problem was accessibility. The opportunity to schedule joint practice times so we could exchange information and techniques was difficult. Getting to the particular location to have a practice session was a hindrance as well. As they say in the current UPS commercials it is all about logistics. It was a struggle….but a good struggle. It is what we had and I feel fortunate that I was able to utilize as much as possible all of the avenues we had back then to learn the craft of guitar playing and singing. I am a product of that environment.

Today there are so many tools available at the touch of a mouse click that can enable a musician to learn anything you can imagine. From music tutorials on YouTube to personal one on one sessions through Skype a person can learn whatever it is they want to learn. Is that great or what? I find it extremely exciting for the present age. At our fingertips we have the resources that can transform a thought into an action that produces a finished product..a finished work of art. All within a very short amount of time. It is fantastic. The young people today are certainly lucky to have these tools at their disposal. And guess what? So are the older people like me. I am learning new things everyday.

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