John Renbourn, ‘Caroline’s Tune’.

Another piece to which I was some-time-ago introduced by Pandora radio.  As it comes up again today, I realize it needs a bookmark.  Lovely and contemplative, and a great example of The Awesome that was John Renbourn.

There’s a YouTube clip of course, but the sound quality seems noticeably worse than what Pandora plays;  please forgive that and just listen to the playing.

One of the things about Renbourn (and the late Bert Jansch, for that matter) that I remain both fascinated and impressed by, is the overtly “raw” sound of his acoustic “lead” playing.  Sometimes (and there are examples in “Caroline’s Tune”) you can just tell that the “boost” of the solo or lead part is entirely in his hands;  he just plays harder when he wants the notes to stand out.  And here, I’m not just making the standard reference to someone who understands dynamics;  there is a difference between just playing louder, and playing harder, and I hear Renbourn and Jansch both as playing harder for many such passages.  Choosing that*.  These guys were clearly good enough players that this choice must have been a willful one.

As I learn more about audio processing, my developing ear wants to hear those timbres, which sometimes start to sound quacky, plinky, and harsh, as something to mitigate or otherwise smooth out.  These days it would be pretty simple to use a gain booster pedal to achieve that, to bring up the volume and allow a softer playing style;  likewise a saturation boost (quite possibly provided by the same pedal) could help to inject an extra urgency or fullness to the tone without changing the playing style.  But these guys seem to have done that with their hands alone, and somehow it seems too simplistic to say that it would have been better to inject technology into what could have been a purely acoustic performance.

Food for thought, at least for me.  One way or the other, I’m glad Renbourn and Jansch did it that way, because 1) I noticed, and it made me think;  and 2) it sounds plenty awesome to me regardless.

 

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* At least in the studio.  I’d guess that at that time, other options for pulling such things off live were a great deal more limiting than they are now, and with some of the pioneering sounds that Renbourn was trying for (especially with Jansch in Pentangle), it may well have been the only way to get there.

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Kevin Wilmeth

Professional geek. Amateur human. Credible threat to musical instruments anywhere. (I can't help it. Ideas just invade my brain...)

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