Craig Cummings Music

Jakob Dylan At the Rams Head Live in Baltimore
April 23, 2010, 7:00 am
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Jakob Dylan and his band rolled into Baltimore Thursday night fresh off an appearance on the David Letterman Show. Night owl that I am, I saw the Letterman performance and went to bed determined to see their live show last night. Jakob chose to play Nothing in the Whole Wide World for their Letterman appearance and on Thursday night they chose the same song for their opener. From the start it was clear that this was not going to be an opportunity for Jakob to revisit his indie rock career – different band and a whole different feel. On this night Jakob presented an Americana vibe – a little country, a little bit of folk, and some occasional forays into rock n’ roll. With Neko Case and Kelly Hogan providing understated but beautiful back-up singing, this performance was all about putting the songs first. And, Dylan’s writing gets better as he goes along. The songs are more personal, more direct. His singing benefits as the writing takes on more of a first-person narrative. His voice, with echoes of his famous father, has its own resonance and identity. He know how to deliver a song effectively, yet he allows the song take center stage and never demands the personal spotlight.

Also notable were the musical performances of his band members, particularly the contributions from his pedal steel and stand-up bass players. Fans of Americana music or anyone who enjoys good songwriting and honest straightforward musical performances will leave his show wishing he was a local who they could see sometime soon in another venue across town. AS he tours in support of his latest CD, Women + Country, be sure to buy your ticket.

Baltimore Music Conference
October 13, 2009, 3:03 pm
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The Baltimore Music Conference (BMC) comes to town beginning Wednesday October 14th. The BMC promises to be a very cool event featuring both local and national talent. Live music is scheduled for multiple venues during this 4-day event.

I’ll be appearing on Thursday and Saturday nights. On Thursday night, the Baltimore Songwriter’s Association takes over Ledbetters in Fells Point to showcase some of the best songwriters Baltimore can offer. My slot begins at 8:00 p.m., but music fans should plan to make a night of it. Other musicians performing include Teporah, Ken Gutberlet, Warren Cherry, Georgie Jessup, Marc Evans, and many others. You can’t find a better way to see many of the most talented songwriters in Baltimore gathered together in one spot. If you’ve never been to Ledbetters…it was recently voted Baltimore’s best dive bar. If you’ve never been there, put it on your bucket list.

On Saturday night, I’m appearing at the Sheraton City Center, 101. W. Fayette St. The Sheraton is the conference headquarters and this show closes the 4-day event. It is scheduled from 9 pm to 1 am. I open the show at 9:00. Others on the bill include Cameron Blake and the Mike Montrey Band.

Baltimore sometimes plays second fiddle to Washington, D.C. when the local music scenes draw comparisons. Both cities have very vibrant music scenes and this is a chance to see much of what Baltimore has to offer. Some events are free and there is a minimal cover charge for others. Some are indoor venues and some are outdoors. It should be a busy musical week in Charm City. Don’t miss the opportunity to see what the BMC has to offer. And please…check out my shows!

Beatles Box Set – Part I
September 18, 2009, 6:13 pm
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I just celebrated a birthday and my family gave me The Beatles box set as a gift – lucky me! Yes, the girls are terrific. Anyway, I’ve had a chance to get through the first few CDs and I have to tell you – this stuff is really terrific. The box set contains the British releases so anyone looking for U.S. releases such as Something New or Yesterday and Today may be slightly disappointed – that is until they cut through the shrinkwrap and put the CDs in the player.

With The Beatles is glorious. I especially loved the clarity of Don’t Bother Me. I always thought the sound on that cut was so noisy – almost like they recorded it at the Cavern in Liverpool.

On Please Please Me, I was knocked out by how great the vocals sounded on Ask Me Why. I’ve always loved this song, and the version delivered on these remasters is just sensational. I mean, the Beatles’ vocals were always a highlight, but in these remasters it is hard to ignore just how important the vocals were to their sound and identity.

When I listened to A Hard Day’s Night, I was instantly transported back to the Westowne Theater in Baltimore (Catonsville actually)… the sounds and the visual memories associated with Can’t Buy Me Love are impossible to forget. Every note on the remastered version is so clear and precise…I played this cut multiple times to soak in the memories.

Well – that’s as far as I’ve gotten. Part II is on the way. Beatles For Sale, Help, Rubber Soul

Check Out These Live Versions
September 7, 2009, 11:13 pm
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Craig Live at the Hon Bar

Craig Live at the Hon Bar

I’ve spent some time remixing some live recordings that I made this summer. I’ve posted 2 of these songs on my myspace page and they will be up shortly on my Craig Cummings Music website. Both songs are solo performances of songs that I’ve written in the past year. Barcelona is a song about needing to be in a different place. Late Night Highway Blues tells the story of love that doesn’t work out – and the regret that comes with knowing there’s no turning back. I am uploading the files below so that you can listen here as well. I hope you enjoy the music.

Songwriting is like the tides…
September 6, 2009, 12:42 pm
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It comes and goes…and comes and goes. I wrote 6 new songs while on vacation for 2 weeks at the beach. They are now performance ready. I’ll be posting some of them on my website soon.

In the 3 weeks since returning from the beach – nothing new. Oh well, the tide is coming in!

The Problem with Digital Downloads
August 31, 2009, 10:30 pm
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I’ve been pondering recent articles I’ve read discussing the not too distant future when digital downloads will replace physical CDs as the predominant way in which consumers will purchase recorded music. I think this is rather curious and sad. While it is certainly no big surprise, I can’t help feeling that music lovers lose a great deal in this technological development.

When vinyl was the the dominant form in which we purchased recorded music, there was a particular satisfaction gleaned from sitting down with a new album and carefully viewing the cover art and liner notes while losing my self in the music. This was a type of tradition… a routine that provided no small amount of enjoyment and allowed the listener to really explore the various creative aspects that went into the creation of a new record album.

When CDs surpassed vinyl as the main form of recorded music, many people (this writer included) complained that the size of CDs decreased the emphasis on quality album art and de-emphasized the importance of liner notes (they became much harder to read). Still, the CD maintained, albeit in miniature form, the joy of exploring cover art and journalistic contributions that placed the recording in a social, political, or musical context.

My problem with dominance of digital downloads is that we lose the artistic contributions of painters, illustrators, photographers, and journalists that once accompanied the music. When I download a recording I can still enjoy the music but I lose out on so much more that used to be part of the music buying experience.

Purchasing hard to obtain vinyl pressings of recent recordings is a fascination for some dedicated listeners, but it used to be the shared experience of all. Not all technological advances bring joy or make for a better product. As digital music downloads become the dominant way in which we purchase music, the art of creating a musical statement suffers a serious blow. I wonder why musicians aren’t objecting to the trivialization of what they create. Maybe their concerns about the bottom line (e.g., digital sales of individual tracks) trump their concerns for creating a more complete artistic package. And, this plays right into the hands of the corporate giants in the music business that we all supposedly dislike and reject.

Internet Radio
June 7, 2009, 10:27 am
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My music has recently been picked up by two different internet radio stations. I feel good about this. After submitting my songs for consideration on both of these stations, they responded promptly with a positive message, and seem truly interested in adding my songs to their playlists. My entire CD was picked up by Umbrella Radio ( and a couple of nights ago they featured me in a 20 minute radio interview . It was a great way to support an indie musician and I am grateful for their support. Umbrella Radio “supports, promotes and showcases the arts, music, culture and the humanities in North Baltimore’s neighborhoods.”

The Songwriters Network ( picked up two of my songs (You Go To My Head and Tallahassee) and they are being featured on a weekly show for emerging artists as well as being available by request at any time . The nice thing about this station is that my songs get mixed in rotation with those of more established artists.

It may seem self-serving to say, but isn’t this what radio should be doing? It seems near to impossible to get terrestrial radio stations to be responsive to indie musicians. I’ve submitted my music to numerous terrestrial radio stations and have not even received an acknowledgement that they received it. Several of these stations even promote themselves as being “friendly” to local and regional musicians. I’m not sure what that means. Friendly people at least acknowledge that someone has sent them something for their review or consideration. It is kind of like saying hello to someone and having them not respond to your greeting. The excuse they use is that they receive so many requests for airplay that they cannot possibly respond to everyone. I think that is a pathetic response. At the very least, they could create a template letter that says, “We’ve received your submission and if we decide to add it to our playlist(s) we will contact you.” It would cost the price of a stamp.

The beauty of internet radio stations is that they do not seem to be controlled by corporate music executives. They aren’t so removed from their audience. Rather, they are responsive to their listeners and to the musicians that create the music that populates their playlists. As technology continues to change the ways in which we listen to music, we should hope that internet radio resists the temptation to become “corporate.” By remaining independent, they will be able to maintain their artistic freedom and individuality in ways that most commercial radio stations have not.

Technology Breeds Lazy Listeners
June 1, 2009, 10:38 pm
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There was an article in the New York Times electronic edition today titled, “The Ascendance of Internet Radio.” The author, Saul Hansell, was interviewing Tom DeVesto, the CEO of Tivoli Radio. For those of you unfamiliar with Tivoli, they make high end radios for well-heeled consumers, and Mr. DeVesto was discussing how his new models are designed to receive internet radio broadcasts over WiFi networks.

What incited me to write this posting was a comment Mr. DeVesto made about the target audience for his products. He said, “The days of putting on an album, sitting down and listening to it are over,” he said. “Music is part of living.”

When I read this quote, I wanted to shout, “No!” at the top of my lungs, but I am pretty sure my co-workers would have asked me to explain, and I am not sure I was ready to say exactly what was on my mind. It has taken me a while to collect my thoughts. What utter pessimism and cynicism is required for the CEO of a company that depends on music fans to buy its products, to say that music consumers are no longer interested in really paying attention to the music upon which its product depends. Music is certainly part of living. But I would point out that taking the time to listen, study, and appreciate a musical work of art is also part of living – it is certainly part of my life and the lives of many others I know.

Further along in the article, as he discusses the benefits of internet radio over subscription services such as Napster, Mr. DeVesto states, “You don’t want to walk into a room with 10,000 CDs and have to look at them to pick out what you want..” “You want to turn on the radio, hear the song that comes on and say, ‘This is great.’ ” Well, the last time I was in a room with thousands of CDs, it took about 2 hours for me to pry myself away – and there were about 25 others in the store having the same experience. It seems that Tivoli radio, through its CEO, is marketing its product on the theory that music listeners in the 21st century are so lazy that they do not want to think or read about what they are hearing. They just want to hear it. This is kind of scary. It’s kind of like saying I don’t want to think at all about the food I am eating or how it tastes, I just want to eat it.

This kind of attitude encourages consumers to be lazy and uninformed. It says, “Don’t think about what you are hearing, just enjoy the noise as the soundtrack of your life.” I always thought that the purpose of music, like most art forms, is to make us feel and think things we might not think and feels otherwise. Good music forces the listener to work a bit – to consider questions that help us fit the music into a schema of existing musical works and to evaluate it based on emotion and intellect.

If Mr. DeVesto is right (and I do not think he is), internet radio technology is being designed on the premise that listeners are dumb, lazy, and unimaginative. It succeeds by leaving us at the mercy of faceless radio stations that tell us what we want to hear, rather than asking what we prefer. I don’t think most music lovers are that lazy. In fact, I don’t think most casual fans are that lazy either. And, I don’t think that the original ideas behind internet radio were based on the notion that we are a society of passive listeners. Rather, I think the growing market for internet radio is based on the notion that music lovers and casual listeners can’t get enough of a good thing. And the only way we figure out what is good and what is not, is to take the time to figure it out… by sitting down and listening.

Pass me the turntable…

Americana Music Association – Albums of the Year?

I was looking over the nominations for the AMA album of the year. Now, these are 4 very fine choices – Written in Chalk (Buddy & Julie Miller); Real Animal (Alejandro Escovedo); Midnight at the Movies (Justin Townes Earle); Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit (Self-Titled). Without suggesting that one of these choices is not worthy of consideration, I’ve got to say that the omission of Rodney Crowell’s stellar release, Sex and Gasoline, is a huge mistake. I’ve discussed Written in Chalk in an earlier post (April 21st) and given that release its due diligence as probably the most deserving of lavish praise. But Sex and Gasoline is not far behind. It is a sterling example of Americana music at its finest. Rodney has released some fine music throughout his career, but really, none better than the music contained on this CD. It is a shame that his name is missing from the list.

I always think these awards are strange. How does one quantify one piece of art as being better than another? Who votes and what is their agenda (c’mon, we all have one)? Are the CDs that sell the most copies necessarily the “best?”

I tend to think that associations are better off not selecting one album, song, or performer to be the best. I think they would be better served identifying a small group of performers or performances that are undeniably great, and celebrating the accomplishments of a small representative group rather than handing the accolades to one person, song, or performance. I think that would acknowledge the choice to be part of a group with common ideals and to celebrate the best efforts of the group from year to year. Let’s give a shout out to Buddy and Julie, Alejandro, Jason, Justin, and Rodney for their beautiful work -and leave it at that.

Things On My iPod You’ve Never Heard
May 15, 2009, 2:38 pm
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I want to tell you about some CDs that I have on my iPod that most people have never heard – but that I think are really terrific.

Moments From This Theater – Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. These songwriters created absolutely fantastic 60’s soul/r&b music: I’m Your Puppet; Sweet Inspiration; Cry Like A Baby; Do Right Woman, Do Right Man; It Tears Me Up. These songs were recorded by giants in the industry like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave. This CD presents the stripped down versions of these songs as originally conceived by the songwriters. It is very cool to listen to what are essentially the original versions of these soul classics.

The Red Dirt Album – Stoney LaRue. Stoney LaRue was born in Texas. He merges the feel of beer drinking country music with heartland rock and roll and the blues. What results is a wonderful record that represents the Red Dirt musical community usually associated with Stillwater, Oklahoma. Down in Flames and Closer To You, the first two songs on the CD reveal his ability to write southern rock anthems as well as more sensitive country ballads, His covers of Bluebird Wine and Forever Young show a knack for identifying songs that work well with his whiskey-worn vocals and southern rock ethos. I discovered this CD when someone sent me a comment on my MySpace page saying they thought my voice was similar to his. I’m not sure I agree with that, but his singing is great so it was a flattering comparison.

Nothing Is Okay – The Everybodyfields. This group hails from Johnson City, TN. They blend sounds of traditional country music with a more modern alt-country feel. Their harmony filled songs are sad, haunting, and somewhat uplifting at the same time. My favorite song on the CD, Lonely Anywhere, aptly represents the overall feel of the recording. This is a wonderful piece of music to listen to on a Sunday morning, or on a lonely evening when searching for some inspiration.

If you are looking for something you probably have never heard, check out one of these CDs…and let me know what you think.