One of them happened when I was in the shower, and I had my iPod/FM transmitter/jalopy stereo system going. And Taylor's live version of "Tighten Up" came up on shuffle. He started off the jam telling about how the song was from 1973 -- think that's wrong, by the way -- and he was singing it. You know, the year. And he starts doing this "Way back, way back, way back, way back in nineteen seeeeventy-three" scat type thing. And that's when I had the epiphany. This style reminded me so much of some of John Mayer's stuff. I went back and listened to "1983" and some other live tunes. The pieces started falling together.
I had read -- somewhere in what I like to call my "research" -- that Taylor (yes, first name basis...you want a piece of me?) wants to tour with John Mayer. I kind of laughed at that, but now, I'm catching the groove of this. It all makes sense.
I've been doing this thing which John Mayer once called a musical family tree, or something. Basically, it's just listening to the music that influences the music you like, and you keep moving around, listening to the influencing artists. It wasn't long before I got to the Taylor Hicks/Ray Charles/John Mayer connection. There are some other overlapping things, yes.
Turns out, though, that it's that "soul thing" (I wrote a sufficiently cheesy journal on my Last.fm page about it) that ties them up together so nicely in the music-loving part of my brain. It's when each performance of a song is an individual work of art. The music and lyrics as they appear on a page might very well be art, but when they are given breath, that's when they come alive -- obviously. I've watched somewhere around six or seven versions of Taylor singing that semi-lifeless "Do I Make You Proud" song, and each time, he does what he can to give it breath. He injects a little improv, and you know, soul. And it works. Not every singer can do that. It really does take an artist.
That's why, back in the day, I could listen to three different versions of "Your Body is a Wonderland" or "Daughters" or "Something's Missing" or "Covered in Rain" and it felt fresh and soulful each time. And that's the point, apparently, because as it turns out, John Mayer has a MySpace and uses the blog feature. And on there, he mentions something about the Trio song "Vultures" going on his new album (next month, maybe!) and being a different creature than the one we know because it has grown. A song is not just a song. The performance -- the living soul in it -- has everything in the world to do with it. It's not art until there is actually an artist behind it.
That's the problem. There is so much music right now -- pop crap -- that is just manufactured. For instance, I really like Maroon 5, but I remember at the Nashville show, I was so impressed with how much the song sounded exactly like the record. And that didn't sit well with me. Now I know why.
I mentioned this on the Last.fm thing. I like the imperfect music. It's like that thing Holly talks about -- the "needing to be airbrushed" factor. I like the music that isn't flawless. It's when the sour notes in Taylor's version of Elton John's "Levon" and John's "Man on the Side" become the highlight of the song that you've found something. It's a little bit of Soul peeking out. Paula Abdul might be hopped up on OxyContin, but I think she was actually right when she told Randy that what might seem pitchy to him is really the essence of Taylor. When the song's grabbed ahold of you and those kind of notes bust out, it's real. And that's what I like. Real.
I remember the first time I encountered it. About eight minutes into John's nine-minute version of "Covered in Rain" on Any Given Thursday, he comes up for air after about four minutes of tripped-out jamming. After a little bridgey thing, he starts singing the chorus again, and it is this huge burst of emotion. And the song was no longer just a song. It's the same thing that happened when Holly and I first heard the acoustic version of "Disease." It will make you cry, and you almost cannot explain why. But it's because it's not fake music. Turns out that Rob Thomas has a soul.
So, yes. That's what I love. Real music, warts and all.
As a closer here, I have a few John Mayer things that I didn't know until just recently:
Again, the Continuum album is supposed to come out some time soon.
He's on the Cars soundtrack. The folks at iTunes won't let you just download his version of "Route 66" though. It's an "album only" track.
I bought the new Dixie Chicks album about a week ago, and today, I found out that he's featured as the lead guitarist on the track "I Hope." I don't know how I missed that.
And like I said, he's blogging on MySpace. And has been for a long time. Check it out. The man has the best vocabulary I've ever seen in my life.