Sara Carter, The Carter Family and “New Old Timey” Music

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Today marks the birthday of Sara Carter, one of the original members of The Carter Family.  She was A.P. Carter’s wife and the main singer for the group.  Marital problems forced the group to end their performing career, however not before they left an amazing amount of great music.

The Carter Family is considered one of the primary forces that created country music, but is also heralded along with influencing artists such as Bob Dylan, and others of the 60s folk movement by way of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. Along with Jimmie Rodgers inspiring country musicians from Bill Monroe to Ernest Tubb, Left Frizzell and Hank Williams to Johnny Cash.

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The German record company Bear Family Records known for their comprehensive collections of seminal recordings has issued a boxset of all of their music, and while expensive, it is a very good set to own, not only for the high-quality recordings but also for the hardcover book documenting the history and importance of the group.

MI0001774654The Carter Family: In The Shadow Of Clinch Mountain (12-CD Deluxe Box Set) 12-CD box (LP-size) with 220-page hardcover book, 307 tracks. Playing time approx. 933 mns.

Many of these recordings are appearing for the first time on CD, and the sound of these ageless classics has been digitally enhanced without damaging their integrity or purity. All known photographs of the original Carter Family have been included. Mother Maybelle’s personal photo collection has been included as well as all the photos belonging to Janette Carter, some previously unpublished, and there is a full-length newly-researched Carter Family biography by preeminent country music historian Charles Wolfe. ‘These recordings are archetypal and timeless,’ writes Wolfe. ‘They are as elemental as the wind or water, and have the simple beauty of the landscape of (the Carters’ home in) Poor Valley. It is hard to underestimate the importance of the Carter Family to country music, and to American music in general’.

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Over the last twenty or so years, there has been something of a resurgence of this kind of music.  Gillian Welch is arguably the most well known young artist to incorporate the musical and production values of music from a much earlier period.  I call this trend New Old Timey music, but it coincides with a reinvigoration of Bluegrass music with artists such as the Steeldrivers, Crooked Still and other bands breaking through to a mjuch wider audience than traditional Bluegrass bands.

Otis Gibbs, Cahalen Morrison, Danny Barnes, The Crooked Jades, Goodnight Texas, The Lonesome Sisters are just a few of the many young artists producing new music that sounds as if it could have been made during the Depression.

New acoustic music that is well worth hearing.

Ralph Stanley : February 25, 1927 – June 23, 2016

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The worlds of bluegrass, country and roots music lost one of its patriarchs this week:  Ralph Stanley died in his sleep at age 89 Thursday night.

Among other things, Stanley was a master of a style of banjo playing which came to be called the “Stanley style”, which differed from both the Scruggs style or strict claw-hammer style.  He also enjoyed a career resurgence after being featured in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou singing the gospel song “O Death” in the style of the Appalachian Primitive Baptist Universalist church.

Jonathan Bernstien has written a in-depth tribute in American Songwriter.

Kris Kristofferson Turns 80 This Week

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Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson are the two remaining Highwaymen, with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings both gone.  Kris Kristofferson turned 80 yesterday and Willie is three years older.  Recently in this blog I posted about Merle Haggard on his 79th birthday just before learning of his death two hours later that same day.  Also, we lost Guy Clarke a few weeks ago on May 17 at 74.

All of these men are great songwriters and as George Jones sang in the Troy Seals/Max D. Barnes song “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”:

No, there will never be another
Red-Headed Stranger
A Man in Black and Folsom Prison Blues
The Okie from Muskogee
Or Hello Darling
Lord, I wonder, who’s gonna fill their shoes?

These men represent the best of what the country tradition has to offer, their songs, especially Kristofferson’s, are finely wrought and tell us something meaningful about ourselves and the human condition.

Instead of me continuing, I will simply point you to the excellent tribute to Kristofferson  that appeared in today’s No Depression by Terry Roland.

Kris Kristofferson at 80: An Appreciation

 

Philippe de Vitry : Early Music Innovator

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Philippe de Vitry was a renowned poet, music theorist, composer, diplomat, and bishop. Along with Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300–1377), he is emblematic of the French fourteenth century—a pivotal era in the history of Western music and poetry, and one in which he flourished as an influential public intellectual and early humanist. But while Machaut has been the subject of numerous books and conferences, Vitry’s story has been told piecemeal due to difficulty in attribution for his compositions.

Today is the 655th anniversay of his death which occurred on June 9, 1361.

Vitry was active during the period now known as the Ars Nova (approximately 1315-1375) and he is also credited with having documented its musical development in a treatise of the same name.  This treatise detailed a revolutionary new method of notation – a method that allowed for far greater rhythmic subtlety and complexity.  The method was very forward thinking and reflected an increasingly secular world that was influenced by new technologies and the tragedy of the Black Plague.

squarcSuch innovations as are exemplified in his stylistically-attributed motets for the Roman de Fauvel were particularly important, and made possible the free and quite complex music of the next hundred years, culminating in the Ars subtilior.  Each of his known works is strikingly individual, exploiting a unique structural idea. He is also often credited with developing the concept of isorhythm (an isorhythmic line consists of repeating patterns of rhythms and pitches, but the patterns overlap rather than correspond; e.g., a line of thirty consecutive notes might contain five repetitions of a six-note melody or six repetitions of a five-note rhythm).

The name “Ars Nova,” which translates to “The New Art,” became the moniker for an entire artistic period.  In terms of musical practice, its most noteworthy contribution was the new method of measuring rhythm, which, among other things, allowed for syncopation to be easily implemented; the concept of a time signature was also introduced.

Various sources claim that de Vitry was born in Vitry-en-Artois near Arras, or possibly in Champagne or Paris. He died in either Meaux or Paris.   De Vitry is thought to have studied at the University of Paris where he received a Master of Arts degree. He also studied at the Sorbonne and held numerous prebends (a stipend from a cathedral). But his main sphere of activity was the French court, where he was secretary and advisor to Charles IV (1316-1378), Philippe VI (1293-1350), and Jean II (1319-1364).

vitry_lHe was known as a leading intellectual. He was friends with the poet Francesco Petrarch (1304-1474) and the famous mathematician, philosopher, and music theorist Nicole Oresme (c1320-1382).  He was widely acknowledged as the greatest musician of his day, with Petrarch writing a glowing tribute, calling him: “…the keenest and most ardent seeker of truth, so great a philosopher of our age.”

Though we do know something about Philippe de Vitry’s life and his positions at the French court, less is known about his actual compositions. The only surviving works (some with greater evidence of authenticity than others) are motets.

51JP2G04NAL._SY355_These motets are primarily secular in nature – though a few use religious texts. However, they are mostly on political rather than romantic subjects. Vitry also uses Latin for his secular works, rather than French as had become standard (and Machaut returns to French in his chansons). One sees him here as an intellectual, expressing the issues of his day in musical form. In addition, these motets use two simultaneous texts (as do similar works of Machaut); this is one of their most interesting features. Much of Vitry’s skill in this regard is his ability to set both texts so that they are comprehensible – this is done by rests at important points, as well as the structual integration previously described. One finds a direct sensitivity to the text in these works; the text is the primary determinate of the form, and all the resources employed are devoted to articulation. In this regard, one finds more in common with the later madrigal than with the motets of the early Renaissance.

Vitry was a singular genius who found new modes of expression that would not be fully refined until many years after his death. Interestingly, the nature of the music suggests that his motivation for the new style may well have been in rhetoric, rather than musical expression per se.

Harold Budd : utterly no interest in labels

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It’s a strange thing for anyone to say, but from a renowned composer it’s especially baffling. “I’m not much of a music fan,” says Harold Budd towards the end of a warm, engaging if occasionally mystifying conversation. “I just don’t listen to music – at all!” Even more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that the 77-year-old doesn’t even own his favoured instrument: a piano. “I think they’re ugly things,” he chuckles. “Architecturally speaking, and in other ways. So to actually live with a piano? Well, that would really insult my aesthetic sense.”

There are other ways in which the American composer, over a career spanning several decades, has trodden his own path. His early compositions embraced 1960s minimalism, yet he soon felt so trapped by the movement’s conceptualism it caused him to (temporarily) retire. He helped pioneer ambient music with Brian Eno in the early 1980s, yet has little regard for the tag – or tags in general. “I just have utterly no interest in that sort of thing,” he sighs. And despite his highbrow credentials (Budd has composed for string quartets, choirs and even penned an extended gong solo), he has devoted much of his career to collaborating with British pop stars, from Cocteau Twins to Jah Wobble.

To confuse things further, Budd cites not music but visual art (in particular, the abstract expressionists Mark Tobey and Jackson Pollock) as his chief inspiration, although the notion that he’s somehow immune to the thrill of music isn’t true. As a teenager, he fell in love with the electrifying sound of bebop and went on to play drums for saxophonist Albert Ayler’s band while serving in the army. “I wanted to be the world’s greatest jazz drummer,” he says. “And I failed at that!”  (The Guardian)

“Honestly, I have no idea why I was tagged as “minimalist”. I’m so minimal, I’m not even minimalist!  I don’t like minimalism, and I never have.”

Harold Budd (born May 24, 1936) is an American avant-garde composer and poet. He was born in Los Angeles, and raised in the Mojave Desert. He has developed a style of playing piano he terms “soft pedal”.

Budd’s career as a composer began in 1962. In the following years, he gained a notable reputation in the local avant-garde community.  In 1966, he graduated from the University of Southern California (having studied under Ingolf Dahl) with a degree in musical composition. As he progressed, his compositions became increasingly minimalist. Among his more experimental works were two drone music pieces, “Coeur d’Orr” and “The Oak of the Golden Dreams”. After composing a long-form gong solo titled “Lirio”, he felt he had reached the limits of his experiments in minimalism and the avant-garde. He retired temporarily from composition in 1970 and began a teaching career at the California Institute of the Arts.

“The road from my first colored graph piece in 1962 to my renunciation of composing in 1970 to my resurfacing as a composer in 1972 was a process of trying out an idea and when it was obviously successful abandoning it. The early graph piece was followed by the Rothko orchestra work, the pieces for Source Magazine, the Feldman-derived chamber works, the pieces typed out or written in longhand, the out-and-out conceptual works among other things, and the model drone works (which include the sax and organ “Coeur d’Orr” and “The Oak of the Golden Dreams”, the latter based on the Balinese “Slendro” scale which scale I used again 18 years later on “The Real Dream of Sails”).  (from the 1988 CD The White Arcades)

Working with Brian Eno changed Budd’s life. “I owe Brian everything,” he says, “But the primary thing was attitude. Absolute bravery to go in any direction. I once read an essay by the painter Robert Motherwell and he pointed out a truth that is so obvious and simple that it’s overlooked: ‘Art without risk is not art.’ I agree with that profoundly. Take a flyer – and if it fails don’t let it crush you. It’s just a failure. Who cares?”

Eno and Budd were soon hailed as the godfathers of ambient thanks to collaborations such as 1980’s Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror and 1984’s The Pearl. Budd embarked on collaborations with other British artists: John Foxx, Andy Partridge, David Sylvian. “I couldn’t get arrested in America,” he says. “But as soon as I landed in Britain, I was taken seriously as an artist. What a change from just a few hours earlier!”

Guy Clark dies at 74

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Best known as one of the great songwriters of the 20th century, Clark took unassuming characters and mundane happenings and projected them into narratives with epic scope. Among Texas songwriters, only Willie Nelson and Townes Van Zandt compare to Clark, who died at age 74 Tuesday morning at his Nashville home, after a long illness.

Guy wrote “L.A. Freeway,” one of American music’s greatest driving songs and the final word for small-town troubadours on the false allure of big cities. His lyrical detail in “Desperados Waiting for a Train” and “Texas, 1947” presents a view of life in postwar West Texas that is as true as Dorothea Lange’s best Dust Bowl portraiture. When he wrote about the one possession of his father’s that he wanted when his dad died in “The Randall Knife,” he made a universal statement about paternal love and respect. Bob Dylan lists Guy among his handful of favorite songwriters, and most of Nashville does too.

MI0003584548In the past few years of his life, Clark, who was born in Mohanans, Texas, in 1941, had been battling failing health, but still remained prolific: his most recent LP, 2013’s My Favorite Picture of You, won a Grammy Award for Best Folk Album. In it, he told of a particular photograph of his beloved wife, Susanna, who passed away the year prior from lung cancer: “my favorite picture of you is the one where your wings are showing,” he sang in his warm, ragged coo. As always, he could see what both was and wasn’t there with the clearest of vision.

Guy penned “My Favorite Picture of You” a mere five years ago, just after turning 69, an age to which most of his contemporaries had chosen to coast, provided they were still living at all.

The song originated the way most of them do, with a line. A friend, Gordie Sampson, came to write at Guy’s West Nashville home and brought a hook list with him, a page of potential lines and titles. The two reviewed the list in Guy’s basement workshop, where he splits his time between writing and building guitars, sustaining himself on black coffee, peanut-butter crackers, hand-rolled cigarettes, and an occasional toke of boo.

Guy sat across from Sampson at a workbench in the center of the room. A tall man with regal posture, he’s got an angular white mustache and soul patch, wavy gray hair that curls up at his collar, and a woodblock of a forehead that looms over deep-set blue eyes. His general expression is that of someone who’s thinking about something more important than you are. Or at least more interesting.

One line on the list jumped out at him: “my favorite picture of you.” He pointed past Sampson to a thirty-year-old Polaroid of his wife, Susanna, pinned on the wall behind a drill press, a photo taken back when she and Guy were Nashville’s king and queen.

I’d play the Red River Valley
And he’d sit out in the kitchen and cry
And run his fingers through seventy years of livin’
And wonder, “Lord, has ever’ well I’ve drilled run dry?”

“I stepped into his home once, and it was full of art and guitars; it was this place full of artistic creation,” Lyle Lovett, a friend and admirer of Clark’s work, told the Houston Chronicle in 2012. “And that reaches into his songs as well. We’re all trying to get to the same place through our discovery of things that make us feel like we’re OK. That’s basically what music and art does. You want to find a mutual point of view with somebody who understands how you feel.

“Guy’s a master at expressing feeling in songs.”


Material from this article came from the following articles:

Guy Clark, iconic Texas songwriter, dies at 74

He Ain’t Going Nowhere

Songwriter Guy Clark Dead at 74

Two Pop Masterpieces Turn 50 Today : Pet Sounds & Blonde on Blonde

Both recordings were released on May 16, 1966, fifty years ago today.  One a ground breaking aural masterpiece which broke the mold of what a rock band might aspire toward with album length work; the other an impressive combination of roots rock and Shakespearian imagery.  Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds inspired The Beatles and countless other bands while causing dissent among the members of the Beach Boys.  Bob Dylan’s Blond on Blond marked the artistic peak of his steady progression during the ‘60s from derivative folk singer to transcendental spokesman of a generation.

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Recorded fast with Nashville session cats who were used to grinding out country hits, Blonde on Blonde has a slick studio polish that makes it sound totally unlike any of Dylan’s other albums, with sparkling piano frills and a soulful shitkicker groove. Yet the glossy surface just makes the songs more haunting. Despite its age, Blonde on Blonde remains the pinnacle of Dylan’s genius – he never sounded lonelier than in “Visions of Johanna,” funnier than in “I Want You,” more desperate than in “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.” It’s his most expansive music, with nothing that resembles a folk song – just the rock & roll laments of a vanishing American, the doomed outsider who’s given up on ever belonging anywhere. “I don’t consider myself outside of anything,” Dylan said when the album came out. “I just consider myself not around.”

Blonde on Blonde is full of that “not around” chill – Dylan mixes up the Texas medicine and the railroad gin for a whole album of high-lonesome late-night dread, blues hallucinations and his bitchiest wit. Still only 24, writing songs and touring the world at a wired lunatic pace that would come crashing to a halt in a couple of months, Dylan was on a historic roll, dropping this double-vinyl epic just 14 months after going electric with Bringing It All Back Home in March 1965 and Highway 61 Revisited in August. He was moving too fast for anyone to keep up, and writing masterpieces faster than he could release them. Yet Blonde on Blonde still feels like it came out of nowhere, with a sound he never attempted again, and neither Dylan nor the rest of the world has ever quite figured out how it happened. As organist Al Kooper put it, “Nobody has ever captured the sound of 3 a.m. better than that album. Nobody, even Sinatra, gets it as good.”  (Rolling Stone)

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The Beach Boys album Pet Sounds has been a milestone twice over. When it was released, it was rock & roll’s coming of age: a sui generis album of healing songs about painful emotions, informed by jazz, hymns, Spectorian pop, classical music and exotica. In 2001, after the long period in exile documented in recent biopic Love and Mercy, Wilson began performing the whole thing to rapturous receptions, helping establish the practice, now ubiquitous, of playing classic albums in full. The 2016 tour will be the album’s final outing — and perhaps Wilson’s, too — but it’s a long goodbye. It’s somewhat ironic that an album that Wilson was only able to create because he quit touring will keep the 73-year-old on the road until deep into the fall. The night before it turned 50, he gave it a spin at Bristol, U.K.’s Colston Hall.

Pet Sounds is sometimes regarded as a Wilson solo album, mostly recorded with crack L.A. session musicians and lyricist Tony Asher while his bandmates were out of the way, but he needs a mess of help to stand alone. His current 11-strong band includes original Beach Boy Al Jardine, his son Matt, early Seventies member Blondie Chaplin, and cheerful veterans of the 2001 shows. Carl and Dennis Wilson are long gone, and there is no need for Mike Love, who famously loathed Pet Sounds for breaking from the winning sunshine-and-cars formula.  (Rolling Stone)

Shelby Lynne : A long and winding road leading to artistic fulfillment

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Shelby Lynne was destined to be a singer. Born a singer. She was raised in rural Alabama by musical parents who stressed individuality and the importance of standing apart from others.

Lynne was born Shelby Lynne Moorer in Quantico, Virginia, in 1968 and spent most of her childhood in Jackson, Alabama. Her father was a local bandleader and her mother a harmony-singing teacher; as children, she and her younger sister Allison — later a country recording artist in her own right — sometimes joined their parents on-stage to sing along.  A terrible student, but avid reader, Shelby loved the written lyric and a beautiful melody. Around the house she was surrounded by country music from the past, Hank Williams, Dottie West, Waylon Jennings, as well as old 45s that belonged to her parents stacked high: Everly Brothers, Beatles, Elvis.

The harmonies that came so naturally to her from such an early age stemmed from her mother, a naturally gifted singer, who guided the diamond in the rough talent on rides to school on freezing Alabama mornings with her younger sister Allison. They sang three part harmonies to pass the time, which brought the threesome so close in life, and in music.

However, that sunny picture does not tell the whole story.

Lynne’s father was a violent alcoholic who when Lynne was 17, shot his wife dead in the family’s driveway, then turned the gun on himself while his daughters looked on.  Lynne stops short of analyzing her father’s demons, of trying to explain what made him suddenly turn homicidal. More than 20 years later, she says she has wasted too much of her life on the whys and what-ifs, “and it ain’t worth a damn, because in the end things are the way they’re supposed to be.” She has come to forgive her father, and she and her sister, country singer Allison Moorer, wish that people would let the matter rest.

“People think we’re in tremendous pain,” Lynne said, “but we want everyone to know that we’re O.K.”

In the wake of the shootings, Lynne took charge of raising her sister and married her high school sweetheart (albeit briefly) prior to their move to Nashville.  There, Lynne recorded some demo songs, which landed her an appearance on TNN’s Nashville Now series. That, in turn, led to a duet with George Jones, for 1988’s Top 50 hit “If I Could Bottle This Up,” and a record deal with Epic, where Lynne teamed up with legendary producer Billy Sherrill.

By the time Shelby Lynne won her Best New Artist Grammy, she’d already completed six albums and had over a decade of recording experience under her belt. Yet in a way, the award was appropriate, since I Am Shelby Lynne was the album that finally found her taking control of her music, following years of casting about in search of an identity.


Over the last decade Lynne has broken new artistic ground with each recording she has released: her stripped down intimate collection of originals, (Suit Yourself, 2005); a tribute to Dusty Springfield (Just a Little Lovin’); followed by a jazzy group of originals (Tears, Lies and Alibis, 2010); a Christmas album (Merry Christmas, 2010); her first explicit exploration of her family’s violent past (Revelation Road, 2011); an expanded reissue of her break-out record, I Am Shelby Lynne; a gospel inflected EP (Thanks, 2013); and finally, Lynne’s 13th full-length album and her first for Rounder Records, a dazzling showcase of emotion-packed vocals and the richly textured storytelling rooted in the Southern tradition of her Alabama upbringing  (I Can’t Imagine, 2015).

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On Revelation Road Lynne wrote, produced, and performed every note, a first for her. While her songs have always been confessional, the 11 tracks featured here, composed in a variety of genres but all of them more or less within Americana’s broad landscape, are more intimate than anything she’s issued previously. This includes the harrowing “Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road,” which directly addresses the killing of Lynne’s mother by her father before he committed suicide in front of her and her sister. In other words, this is the record she’s had to make her entire career.

Revelation Road is the quietest record of Lynne’s career, but it feels like her rawest, too, even as it offers, in small bits and pieces, the varying shades, complexities, and pleasures in her musical world.

 

Shelby Lynne is all about the vibe, so that’s why it made perfect sense to the singer-songwriter to take a record she started at home in California and finish recording it in the heart of Cajun country, at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana.

“Anytime you go to the South, it just naturally sings something — whether it’s mournful or joy.  There’s something about the South that naturally tells its own story. So when you involve your own stories with it, which is the goal, it’s a combination of something that’s already there and hopefully something to come.”

After getting fed up with the music business, Shelby Lynne, always true to herself, walked away and formed her own Everso label in 2010. Now, after releasing three excellent recordings on Everso, she chose this time around to look to Rounder Records for I Can’t Imagine.  Recorded at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana with a small band and a few select guests, the set’s ten tracks run a gamut of styles Lynne’s explored in the past.  Once again the Lynne self-produces with assistance from her music director Ben Peeler, and wrote or co-wrote everything here.

51MeIHoBIYL._SS280Two fine songs, “Love Is Strong” and “Be in the Now,” were co-written with Ron Sexsmith. The former is a ballad that weds Patsy Cline countrypolitan to post-psych pop. The latter features rootsy flatpicking and slide guitars offset by a drum break and a funky electric piano line worthy of Allen Toussaint.  The hardest rocking cut, “Down Here,” a militant anthem to tolerance, recalls Neil Young’s “Southern Man” in places. It would be right at home on contemporary country radio if the song’s pro-gay stance didn’t contradict the format’s radically conservative views.

I Can’t Imagine is confident, assured, and fiercely independent. What ties its various threads together is the songwriter’s unguarded heart, expressed by her near iconic vocal prowess, and we’ve come to expect nothing less from Lynne.

allisonjpg-658d9ec9557dab6eLynne and her sister Alison Moorer went back to Alabama together in 2002, during Lynne’s timeout, to take care of some property they owned. “It was time for me to build some fences,” she said. She wrote poetry and thought about quitting the music business altogether, but even when she started making records again, she took the best of Alabama with her back to California, where she lives just outside Palm Springs. She gardens, mows her own grass, fixes everything herself, a talent she says she got from her father. “I don’t exercise,” she said, “but I’ll do any kind of manual labor.”

When she’s not on the road, a typical Friday night for Lynne means having some friends over for a bottle of wine and playing records, just as the family used to do in Alabama. “I don’t have an iPod,” she said. “I have a computer that I turn on occasionally. I still have all my vinyl. Sissy” — her nickname for Moorer, who lives in New York with her husband, the alt-country singer Steve Earle — “says she has no room in her apartment for records, but I’d keep mine even if I had to sleep on them. You can’t roll a joint on an iPod.”

A complicated artist but one I think everyone should hear.

Remembering Steven Stucky : Gentle yet powerful influence

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“One kind of artist is always striving to annihilate the past,” composer Steven Stucky once wrote, “to make the world anew in each new work, and so to triumph over the dead weight of routine. I am the other kind . . . who only sees his way forward by standing on the shoulders of those who have already cleared the path ahead.”

Such was the case with his Second Concerto for Orchestra, the work that won him the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in music. The composition was deeply informed by tradition — he called it “an homage piece to the orchestra and to my heroes,” Ravel, Stravinsky, Sibelius and Bartok. But it also was squarely in keeping with his championing of contemporary classical music, neither parroting nor repudiating some of the experimental musical motifs of his time.

Dr. Stucky, an emeritus professor at Cornell University, died February 14 at his home in Ithaca, N.Y. He was 66.

Stucky was born in Hutchinson, Kansas. At age 9, he moved with his family to Abilene, Texas, where, as a teenager, he studied music in the public schools and, privately, viola with Herbert Preston, conducting with Leo Scheer, and composition with Macon Sumerlin. He attended Baylor University and Cornell. Stucky worked with Karel Husa and Daniel Sternberg.

Stucky wrote commissioned works for many of the major American orchestras, including Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and St. Paul.

Stucky was an expert on the Polish composer Witold Lutosławski and authored the 1981 study Lutoslawski and His Music. He also was curator of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s 2013 centenary celebration of that composer, Woven Words: Music Begins Where Words End. Stucky was the Given Foundation Professor of Composition at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.  There he founded Ensemble X and led it for nine seasons, from 1997 until 2006, while at the same time he also was the guiding force behind the celebrated Green Umbrella series in Los Angeles.

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Mr. Stucky was also an exceptional orchestrator and colorist. Silent Spring, written in 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s book, a cautionary ecological study, employed a “vast timbral palette,” the critic Allan Kozinn wrote in a New York Times review of a performance by the conductor Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Lincoln Center.  With its “pillars of commanding, rich-hued chords” and “chaotic, swirling woodwind lines,” Mr. Kozinn suggested that if this “shape-shifting” tone poem had a visual analogue, it might be a Jackson Pollock painting.

In 2012, Mr. Stucky provided some revealing insight into his own music with an offhand comment before the New York premiere of his Symphony. “Graspable” is the way he described the 20-minute, single-movement piece in conversation with Alan Gilbert, conductor of the New York Philharmonic before the performance. For all the modernist complexities of Mr. Stucky’s scores, his music was sanguine, lucid and structurally clear — graspable in the best sense.

He had an extraordinarily long and fruitful relationship with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 1988, the ensemble’s then-music director, André Previn, named him the orchestra’s composer-in-residence. Stucky went on to work with the orchestra for more than two decades, including as their consulting composer for new music during the tenure of music director and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, with whom he worked closely in commissioning new music, programming contemporary music, and in such outreach efforts as founding the LA Philharmonic’s fellowship program for composers still in high school.

Stucky delighted in making engaging, smart music. His first opera, The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts), was a collaboration with pianist and writer Jeremy Denk that premiered at California’s Ojai Music Festival in 2014. As theater and opera director Simon Williams wrote in an Opera News magazine review, “The Classical Style is a free-ranging, often bizarre fantasy in which Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, ensconced in boredom in Heaven, become panicked by reports of a decline of interest in classical music on Earth and a perception that human audiences find their music stale … The opera is hugely entertaining, not least because Steven Stucky is a parodist of genius whose knowledge of the language of classical music over the past 250 years is astoundingly detailed and seemingly infinite.”

In 2014 he retired from Cornell and was named an emeritus professor, and joined the Juilliard School to teach composition. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in November.

“He went out of his way to come to the Ensemble X concert last Sunday, and he was warm and generous with his students, who saw him for the first time after his surgery in early December,” Bjerken said. “He was such a gentle yet powerful influence on so many of us.”

Said Steven Pond, chair and associate professor of music: “Despite the challenges of treating his illness, Steve was an active presence in our musical community until just a few days ago. In his decades-long career in our department, Steve’s kind heart and cool head made him invaluable. His impression is left on the many graduate and undergraduate students he taught and advised.”

“In his career as a composer and intellectual, Steve rose to the top ranks in his field,” Pond said.