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This music is our genetic code - Bonnie Raitt, commenting on the importance of blues music

Author Topic: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It  (Read 20628 times)

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Online Johnm

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #30 on: October 25, 2005, 11:35:29 AM »
Hi all,
Thanks for your interest, Andrew and Tom, and you have both anticipated songs that I planned to speak about in this thread.  As you mentioned, Andrew, "Street Car Blues" is a particularly thorny song in terms of understanding the phrasing, because the means by which the form diverges from the commonly encountered conventions differ from any we have encountered thus far.  Here is the song:



Instead of shortening the amount of space alloted for an instrumental response or treating vocal pick-ups as add-ons to a measure, "Street Car Blues" is long in a different way.  The first verse works through its 12-bar form in the following fashion.  I will show the vocal pick-ups coming out of the last four bars of the mandolin intro.
                                          Now, I know,
|   V7     |     V7     |   I      |     I             |
FORM BEGINS:
 I know the people  is on a wonder-everywhere     I say I
|            I           |      I--5 beats           |   I  |   I     |
  know the people  is on a wonder-everywhere    Because they
|           IV         |   IV--5 beats             | I   |    I             |
heard of poor John  strolling 'round-'lectric car        Now
|          V7          |     V7--5 beats          |  I   |    I   |

The prevailing phrasing anomaly  in "Street Car Blues" arises out of Sleepy John pausing after the third beat of the second measure of each four-bar phrase.  The great bluegrass flat-picker George Shuffler referred to such pauses as "dwells" and said that becoming accustomed to them was one of the hardest things about playing with the Stanley Brothers for him.  What's interesting about how Sleepy John employs them in the song is that the lines where he sings them could easily be sung without the pause and phrased "normally", so the driving impetus behind the pause is his own sense of rhythmic flow and how the line should be sung (not so surprising, really).  The other interesting thing about the pause is that Sleepy John does not use it consistently from beginning to end throughout the course of the rendition.  Here is how he varies his phrasing in the subsequent verses of the song.
   *  In verse 2, he employs the pause in the second measure of the first and third four-bar phrase, but not the second four-bar phrase. 
   * In verse 3, he uses the pause in the second measure of the first and second phrases, but not the third (The ensemble plays five-beat measures in the fourth bar of the first phrase and the first bar of the second phrase in verse three, as well).
   * In verse 4, He uses the pause in the second measure of the first and second phrases, but not the third phrase.
One of the factors that allows the ensemble to deal so handily with Sleepy John's varying of the phrase lengths is the way they keep time:  it is a very straight-up-and-down feel with no swung eighth notes, with the piano hitting eight to the bar and the piano and Sleepy John landing very heavily on every beat.  With each beat heavily and equally emphasized, the effect of varying phrase lengths is mitigated somewhat.  I think the whole thing shows, once again, that phrase length and pulse are more important driving forces in this music than metric consistency.

In "Special Agent", Sleepy John varies his phrase lengths in a different, though related way.  The first verse follows.
                                                                   
                                                                   
                                            Now when I                                                       
|      V7     |      V7     |    I    |     I         |
FORM BEGINS:
 I left for Ripley, the weather was kinda cool   Now when I
|         I          |             I                |  I  |      I         |
 left old Ripley,  the weather was kinda cool        Said
|        IV         |              IV             |  I  |    I      |
Boys, y'all be careful, prob'ly you might catch the flu    Now
|        V7                |     V7--3 beats               |  I |  I  |

Here you can see that, once again, it is the second measure of a four-bar phrase that John Estes alters the length of, this time shortening the second bar of the third four-bar phrase, the tag line.  He employs precisely the same shortened phrasing in the same place in verses 2 and 3.  In the fourth verse he switches to the lengthened second bar for the first and second four bar phrases, as found in "Street Car Blues", and jettisons the short second bar in the tag line.  The final verse employs four-beat bars from beginning to end.
The shortened second bar in the tag line that Sleepy John uses on "Special Agent" is tremendously effective because of the song's rocking forward impetus and very strong signature lick.  That lick arrives on the downbeat of the third measure in each four-bar phrase, and when it arrives a beat early in the third phrase it is completely cool.  I think the kind of fluidity of phrasing that John Estes's recordings show, most often in ensemble settings, is remarkable, and to my taste, places his music at a very high level, especially when taken in combination with his stellar singing and great original lyrics.  I expect to be studying his music for some time; it is so rich.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 06:51:01 AM by Johnm »

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #31 on: April 18, 2006, 04:00:13 PM »
Hi all,
There is a wonderful song on the new "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" Yazoo set that fits this topic to a T.  It is "Ginseng Blues", performed by the Kentucky Ramblers, who I believe featured Larry Hensley (known for his stellar cover of "Matchbox Blues") on mandolin and vocals along with a guitar player and, I believe, tenor banjo player (could be a five-string).  None of the players are identified on the set, but the song was previously re-issued on an earlier Yazoo "Kentucky Mountain Music" set that is great.  Here is "Ginseng Blues":




The guitarist on "Ginseng Blues" is playing boom-chang back-up, and if you have thought boom-chang was a boring rhythmic approach in the past, you should really seek this cut out.  The whole band's time is so beautiful, what I think of as "rocking chair" time, just as natural as falling off a log.  One of the beauties of the guitarist's boom-chang approach here is that he doesn't have to alter a thing in his phrasing or accenting to accommodate the lead singer's phrasing idosyncrasies--he just flips the beat and alternates the boom in the treble-toward-bass direction rather than the bass-toward-treble direction that is most commonly employed in this style.  Because he plays all his bass notes with the same inflection (apart from some rapid bass runs), he ends up with a straight-up-and-down quality that a friend of mine who is a Carter Family specialist has described in counting their rhythms, "one and one and one again.". 
The song phrases as so in the first verse and yodeled interlude.  It is a chorus blues of an unusual length, and subsequent verses do not exactly conform to the metric scheme of either the first verse or the first yodeled interlude.  Bars are of four beats unless otherwise indicated.  The song is played in C, tuned a half-step flat.

   Ain'ta gonna dig no ginseng, we ain'ta gonna hunt no squirrels
   |                   C                     |                   C                   |
   Ain'ta gonna do a doggone thing but love my dear sweet mama
   |                   C                           |             C                    |
   CHORUS:  You can't read my mind.    When you
                 |           F            |         C             |
   Think I'm lovin' you, mama, I'm quittin' you all the
   |                G                  |              G              |
   time.       
   | C-2 beats|

YODELLED INTERLUDE:
   Yo dee oh de lay ee hee, Yo dee oh da lay ee tee hee
   | C-5 beats   |     F         |         F      |       C          |
   Yo da       Yo da layee hee, yo de       lay ee
   |C-2 beats|         G           |G-2 beats|C-5 beats|

In all of the subsequent verses, the vocalist comes out "long" by one beat in the first four bars of the 9-bar form.  It took me a while to figure out why he was doing so.  What he is doing is waiting for the fourth beat of the second measure of the form to hit, thus finishing that phrase before starting to sing the pick-ups to the third measure of the form, like so:

   We ain'ta gonna work on a tipple, we aint'a gonna roll no coal, Put my
        |            C                              |                C four beats + 1     |
   Head out the window, watch the drivers roll, sweet mama,
   |                 C                        |                C                |
   CHORUS:             

When you look at the phrasing written out this way, it looks almost impossibly complex, especially for the yodeled interlude.  In fact, though, it sounds perfectly natural and flies in the face of the notion that once the Blues becomes an ensemble music, freedom of phrasing must give way to metric consistency in the interest of achieving ensemble "togetherness".  You know what?  That conventional wisdom is simply not true, as this piece and many of Sleepy John Estes's ensemble pieces show.  The key is to listen well enough in the moment and be light enough on your feet to feel okay about allowing the vocalist to call the shots with regard to phrasing.  A lot of the impetus for regular phrasing comes from accompanying musicians who want to be able to internalize a metrically consistent form so that they can play it on auto-pilot without screwing up--not exactly setting your sights on a star in my estimation!  Another factor that enables the Kentucky Ramblers to accommodate vocal phrasing that changes from one verse or interlude to the next is the simplicity and economy of the way they are keeping time.
In case I haven't already made it clear, I really love this tune, and I think it has an awful lot to teach with regard to relaxation in keeping time, listening to what is going on around you, and responding in the moment.  The singing is wonderful, too.
all best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 06:52:14 AM by Johnm »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #32 on: April 18, 2006, 04:25:15 PM »
Great call, John. It is also on the JSP set "Mountain Blues: Blues, Ballads & String Bands 1927-1938," along with several other gems.

Offline waxwing

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #33 on: April 29, 2006, 09:41:30 PM »
Miller and I found a song with a pretty interesting vocal structure I thought should be in this thread. Viola Lee, by Cannon's Jug Stompers is driven by the very eccentric vocal and harmonica phrasing of Noah Lewis. Starting with a long vocal line over a very standard 4 bars of the I chord, he then shortens the repeated line and ends up singing it over 6 beats in the IV chord and 6 beats in the I chord. The way the instruments are phrasing under the vocal, boom-chick-chick-chick, boom-chick, makes this feel, to me, like a 4 beat measure and a 2 beat measure in both cases. Then Lewis stretches out the final vocal line so that he ends up with two measures of 4 beats plus 2 more beats in the V chord and then ends with two measures in the I chord. But it seems like the two extra beats in the V chord come as a pause  (or dwell?) between the two vocal phrases. So, if I can make this work, it looks like this:
              Form starts
The Judge he pleaded, clerk he wrote it, the clerk he
                   |     I                 |     I                        |
wrote it down in deedy, lord.  The Judge he
|     I                |     I                              |
pleaded, clerk he wrote it          down.                    If you
|    IV               | IV ( 2 beats) |     I          |  I (2 beats ) |
miss jail sentence,                          you must be Nashville bound.
|     V                 | V (2 beats) |   V                                 |   I        |     I     |

This way it works out to a 13 bar form. If you combine the 2 beat measures into 4 + 2 beat measures it ends up as 10 bars. Any thoughts?

And now and then, just to keep the others on their toes, Noah can't wait, and starts his harp solo two beats early, truncating the final bar of I chord. Gus and Elijah Avery seem pretty used to it and snap to the down beat on cue.  Here is "Viola Lee Blues":



What a great piece of music.

All for now.
John C.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 06:53:43 AM by Johnm »
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #34 on: April 29, 2006, 11:18:29 PM »
What a great call, John C., and you are right, a great piece of music.  I will have to reacquaint myself with "Viola Lee", since i have never listened to it with that analytical bent.  I love the seriousness of Noah Lewis's vocal.
All best,
Johnm

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #35 on: August 23, 2006, 06:45:46 PM »
Hi all,
Lil' Son Jackson's "Rollin' Mill Went Down" was recorded for Chris Strachwitz in 1960, and is remarkable for the varied ways in which Lil' Son breaks up his phrasing.  The song employs a boogieish bass figure, which characteristically has the effect of regularizing phrasing.  Not so in this case; unlike Robert Wilkins or Tommy Johnson, who phrase consistently once they establish their divergence from "normal" phrasing, Lil' Son phrases every verse of the four verse rendition differently, and the ways he varies his phrasing are so subtle and unexpected that it took multiple listenings to sort the phrasing out.
Part of the complication of Lil' Son's phrasing is inherent in the structure of his instrumental lick:  it has a two-beat tail or hitch that he is able to insert either before or after the primary lick (or leave unplayed) as a sort of phrasing "make-weight".  I am accustomed to such partial licks occurring after a signature lick, but not often have seen them starting a measure.  The four verses of the song phrase out as follows, with measures of 4 beats unless otherwise indicated:

   VERSE 1:
   |        I         |         I         |         I + 2 beats |
   |       IV        |        IV         |        I + 2 beats |
   |V7-2 beats + IV-4 beats|        I + 2 beats  |

   VERSE 2:
   |        I         |         I         |         I + 2 beats |
   |       IV        |        IV         |         I + 2 beats |
   |V7-2 beats + IV-4 beats | 2 beats + I |  I + 2 beats|

   VERSE 3:
   |        I         |         I         |         I         |       I + 2 beats |
   |       IV        |        IV        |         I          |      I + 2 beats  |
   |       V7        |        V7        |        I         |       I + 2 beats  |

   VERSE 4:
   |       I          |         I         |         I         |
   |      IV         |        IV         |         I         |        I + 2 beats |
   |      V7        |        V7         |        I          I          I             |

A couple of thoughts about the way Lil' Son varies his phrasing on "Rollin' Mill Went Down":
   * We are accustomed to having the vocal drive phrasing that diverges from the "12-bar, 4 beats per bar" norm.  Absent the vocal driving irregular phrasing, such phrasing is most often driven by a personalized sense of how long the instrumental response to each vocal line should be.  In the case of "Rollin' Mill", the vocal causation and instrumental causation with regard to the phrasing shift back and forth.  There is nothing intrinsic to the length of Lil' Son's vocal phrases that would require him to phrase irregularly, nor does he show a consistent preference for instrumental responses of a particular length.  Both factors change constantly throughout the course of his performance.
   * In every instance in which a measure of the I chord is lengthened by 2 beats, it is lengthened via use of the instrumental tail of the signature lick.  In all but the second bar of the last line of the second verse, the two beats added by the instrumental tail are used as add-ons for the vocal pick-ups to the next line.  This use of added on beats for vocal pick-ups is commonly encountered in Country Blues.  In fact, the one place in the song where Lil' Son does not use this device, at the end of the first line of the last verse, sounds really odd, despite being, ostensibly, the more normal phrasing approach.  What is really unusual is the way Lil' Son lands on the instrumental tail at the front end of the second measure of the last line of the second verse.  I'm sure this happens elsewhere in the music but I haven't noticed it before.
   * The two-beat B7 partial measure in the last line of verses one and two is achieved by lopping off the last two beats of the B7 signature lick.  The way Lil' Son is able to do this and flow seamlessly into a 4-beat IV chord signature lick, all the while having the resulting 6-beat, 2-chord measure sound and feel perfectly natural, is remarkable.
   * This song illustrates, if further illustration is necessary, the inadequacy of the simple counting of beats as a means of analyzing Country Blues phrasing and form.  The last line of the second verse has twelve beats of I chord, which might be assumed to phrase out as three measures of 4 beats each.  Instead, they are two 6-beat measures, phrased 2 + 4 beats and 4 + 2 beats.  Taking a total number of beats for a verse and dividing by four to arrive at figures like a 13 and one-half measure form will never get at the individualities of phrasing.

This song is on the Juke if you care to hear it, and I should warn you that if you don't listen pretty hard to it, you might not notice anything unusual about it.  The instrumental lick and Lil' Son's vocal may lull you a bit, but there is some really interesting stuff going on.  I wondered if the fact that Lil' Son was a bit out of practice when this was recorded might have contributed to its singularity, but there is no stumbling, and the phrasing flows from beginning to end.

All best,
Johnm

                   
     
« Last Edit: August 23, 2006, 10:00:54 PM by Johnm »

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #36 on: September 01, 2006, 11:23:42 PM »
Hi all,
A performance that merits a closer look in this category is Willie "Poor Boy" Lofton's "Dark Road Blues".  I first heard this song on the great old Yazoo anthology, "Jackson Blues", and was immediately struck by the frenetic excitement of Willie Lofton's vocal and instrumental delivery.  The song is in the "Big Road Blues" or "Stop And Listen" family, played in dropped D tuning.  Here is "Dark Road Blues":

 

Willie begins his performance with IV chord, in the fifth bar of the form, and immediately catches your attention with a rhythmic hitch:  Every time he goes to the IV chord, he adds on a three-eight-note pick-up line to lead in to the IV, so that the count leading in goes like One-Two-Three-Four-AND-FIVE-AND, with the capitalized portion of the count showing where the pick-up notes fall.  So it is, that the intro phrase as follows:

   1 + |    IV      + 1 + |      IV      |       I        |      I       |

         |    V7    + 1 +   |      IV     |       I        |      I--3 beats|

Willie shortens the I chord instrumental reponse at the end of the form, and generally starts the ascending octave lick between the sixth and fourth strings that open each verse on the + of the third beat of the last measure of the form.  Willie Lofton's way of playing the ascending octave lick is a far cry from the stately quality Tommy Johnson and Walter Vinson brought to it; his approach is frenzied-sounding by comparison.  He gets his super-charged sound through a combination of bass string popping and flipping the direction of the lick, as follows, relative to the count:

     +  |     1      +        2      +      3      +       4       +   |
   6th      6th    4th     6th    6th    4th    6th     4th    6th
  open    open fret 2  fret 2 fret 3 fret 3 fret 4 fret 4  open

In the fourth bar of the I chord, he most often starts the the eighth-note pick-ups into the IV chord on the + of the third beat, not adding on to the four beats of the measure to play the pick-ups, but incorporating them into the normal 4-beat flow.  So it is, that a representative verse form for "Dark Road Blues" looks as follows:

   |        I        |        I        |        I        |        I        |

   | IV + 1 beat |       IV       |        I        |        I        |
   
   | V7 + 1 beat |      IV       |        I        |   I--3 beats |

In practice, Willie Lofton varies the form quite a lot.  In the third verse, he has two bars of IV in the final line of the form, and in the last verse of the song he jumps the gun on going to the IV chord in the fifth bar.  Moreover, he is really loose at the conclusion of the form and how he gets into the next verse; he does it about four different ways in the course of the performance.  For his solo, he goes up the neck in D, riffing until he feels like he has had his say and is ready to go the IV chord; he actually puts a kind of musical period or pause at the end of the phrase before launching into the pick-ups that signal the move to IV.
If you like hot playing and have never heard this performance, you need to seek it out.  I'm pretty sure it is on the Juke.  I think some of the excitement in the playing and singing comes from a sense that Willie is barely in control of what he's doing, and may lose it altogether in an instant, though he never does.  This is a kind of playing you don't hear much nowadays, really hot, with a "Go for it!" kind of spirit and a sort of sloppy sound, certainly anything but careful or meticulous.  It's a sound I associate with some of Sam Collins's raggy numbers and some of Rev. Davis's wild sloppy playing.  It may not be pretty, but it sure is strong.
All best,
Johnm           
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 06:56:52 AM by Johnm »

Offline Temple

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #37 on: September 02, 2006, 08:34:38 AM »
Waxwing,

I know you said that you don't like to think of the guitar and the voice as two separate entities, but I have found it extremely helpful to record myself playing the piano and then practice my singing/phrasing over that.  This is after listening to original recordings 1000 plus times.  It allows for my own feeling for the time and the lyrics to become layered over the phrasing I have learned from the master artist.

Glad to know others feel challenged by this as well because when you listen to someone who does it so well it sounds deceivingly simple.

Temple

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #38 on: September 03, 2006, 09:15:25 AM »
Temple, I think I'm with you as a general rule. There are certainly differing opinions about how to incorporate your singing into your playing. Some say learn the part till you can play it in your sleep, then learn to sing over it. Others say start singing as soon as you start learning the song. I know I tend to use both approaches. Mostly it depends on the complexity of the song. Though I probably lean towards learning the part first.

As far as the subtleties of phrasing go, I do think that there is a danger in learning the singing at the same time as the accompaniment. I think it can result in a mechanical sounding phrasing style sometimes, rather than something that floats over the instrumental part. It can lock you into the same phrasing every time, too, instead of being free to change how you sing something, even by just a little bit - coming in a bit earlier, stretching lines out or compressing them, adding melismatic bits to some notes etc.

Waxy, Viola Lee Blues, yeah!

Offline blueshome

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #39 on: September 06, 2006, 02:13:44 PM »
I've just been listening to Little Brother montgomery's "No Special Rider" and for the first time in 30+ years of hearing this realised that he changes the usual phrasing around on some (most) verses. The first vocal line is immediately repeated and then a fill played, rather than playing the fill after the first vocal line. I wonder how many other songs follow this pattern.

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #40 on: September 06, 2006, 06:51:09 PM »
Hi Phil,
That's cool to hear that you caught something like that after listening to it for so many years.  It is becoming apparent that so much of what happens in Country Blues phrasing that is not "regular" is a result of jimmying around with the length and positioning of the instrumental responses to the sung lines.  And what is great about this is that if the sound is distinctive and suits the song and phrasing, you may end up with a one-off in which the differences to the standard form are not contrived, but natural and personal sounding, like so many of the songs discussed here.
All best,
Johnm

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #41 on: August 25, 2007, 09:51:04 AM »
Hi all,
A performance that has been deservedly receiving a lot of acclaim on the site that fits this category is Geeshie Wiley's performance of "Last Kind Words Blues".  It is a one-of-a-kind phrasing scheme, notably "crooked", and yet perfectly consistent in Geeshie Wiley's rendition, much as Robert Wilkins's and Tommy Johnson's songs that diverge from conventional Blues phrasing schemes are consistent throughout the course of a performance.  Here is the song:



The chord progression/metric breakdown is as follows.  Assume four beats per measure unless otherwise indicated.

   |   A minor   |   A minor   |   A minor   |   E   |

   |   E            |   E (6 beats) |   Bm7 (3 beats) E (3 beats) |

   |   Bm7 (3 beats) E (one beat) |   E    |

Some points about the accompaniment:
   
   * The identification of the third measure as being in A minor is moot, for no chord is ever struck there.  Rather, Geeshie is doing slides to unisons between the fretted second string and the open first string, and then the fretted third string and open second string.  I identify it  as A minor on the basis of the E chord first arriving as a struck chord in the fourth bar, where she does brush strokes in the treble on 2 + and 4+.
   * In the fifth bar, Geeshie begins slides to the fifth fret of the second string alternating them with the open first string, with the slides entering on the + of the first beat and continuing to fall on the + of each beat and the open strings falling on the second, third and fourth beat. 
   * The last open E string falls on the downbeat of the sixth measure, at which point Geeshie begins a slide into the fourth fret of the third string on the + of the first and second beats, contrasting it with open second strings arriving on second and third beat, followed by a descending run that falls on + 4 +.  On beats five and six, she hits a thunderous "down-up" with the thumb striking the sixth string on beat five and a brush in the treble on beat six.
   * In bar 7, Geeshie alternates heavy thumb strokes on the fifth and fourth strings in B minor 7 on beats one, two and three, with upward brush strokes on the second, third and fourth strings on the +s of those beats.  On beat four, she hits a heavy thumb brush of the third and fourth strings with a global hammer into the E chord, and on beats five and six she does a heavy "down-up" a la the fifth and sixth beats of measure six.
   * Measure eight repeats the first four beats of measure 7
   * Measure nine has a heavy "down-up" on beats one and two, as per the fifth and sixth beats of measure 7, followed by a struck sixth string on beat three and the melodic pick-ups on the +4 + of the measure.

What of the vocal?

   * The first four measures are all phrased in front of the beat, with the vocal making its entrance at + 4 + prior to the start of the measure, and then tied into the first beat of the measure.  Singing tied notes across measure breaks can have an almost vertiginous effect, and certainly does in this instance.
   * Geeshie holds the note that enters on the + of 4 in the third bar through the entire fourth bar, thus breaking out of the + 4 + phrasing at the end of the fourth bar.  Instead, she enters the fifth bar on the + of the first beat with another held note or "dwell", which she sustains right through the downbeat of the sixth bar, for a duration of four beats, but off-set from the underlying pulse by a half a beat, like so:
               Held note----------------       
       |   1  +  2  +  3  +  4  +  |  1  +
The effect of this is just magical.  It's like time stops in the middle of a very driving form.
   * Geeshie re-enters on the + of 1 in the sixth bar, with much more crowded phrasing, fitting the words in, tying across the bar line and starting the concluding phrase on the + of the first beat in the seventh measure.  Her vocal phrase concludes simultaneous with the heavy down-beat on beat five of the seventh measure.

It is hard to know what to make of this performance.  There are almost no recordings of songs that bear even a remote resemblance to it.  The only ones I can think of that are vaguely akin to it are Lemon's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", "Wartime Blues" and "Right Of Way Blues" and Mance Lipscomb's "Ain't It Hard".  Whatever its antecedents may have been, "Last Kind Word Blues" must stand as one of the most remarkable performances in the style.  Once you've heard it, you can't imagine the world without it.
All best,
Johnm     
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 06:59:56 AM by Johnm »

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #42 on: November 11, 2007, 01:45:17 PM »
Hi all,
Ed Bell's "Squabblin' Blues", which he recorded as Barefoot Bill, is an interesting candidate for this thread.  Played in E position in standard tuning, "Squabblin' Blues" employs an accompaniment and phrasing archetype that Ed Bell used several times.  Here is his performance of "Squabbling' Blues":



  The first verse phrases like so.  Note that all measures are 4 beats--the visuals do not allow for equal lengths because of having to fit the lyrics in over some bars.

   My--       baby done quit me,     talk's all over,           I say, town------
   +4+||                                 |                             |                         |
      baby done quit me,    talk's all over, town-----------                      And I'm
   |                             |                        |                 |                    +  4+|
     Too good a man, for to   Let that talk go 'round-----                      Take the
   |                                 |                          |        |          |            +    4 + |

So what is happening with Ed Bell's vocal phrasing here?
   *  He consistently sings the first A line as a three-bar phrase.
   *  His phrasing has a counter-punching sort of quality because he never once sings over the first beat of a measure, except with held notes that were attacked on the + of the fourth beat of the previous measure.  Another melody that shares this quality with "Squabblin' Blues", though an altogether different sort of melody, is the quills tune that Henry Thomas played on "Bulldoze Blues".
   *  This counter-punching quality is stressed in his vocal entries, which consistently land on the + of the third beat of the measure preceding the downbeat of the vocal phrase.  He maintains this pattern for his phrase beginnings throughout the song.
   *  A variable aspect of Bell's phrasing is his handling of the tagline of each verse.  In the first and second verses, he sings and plays the tagline as a five-bar phrase.  In his third verse, he sings it as a four-bar phrase.  In his fourth verse, he sings the tagline as a three-bar phrase with two beats added to the third bar to accomodate the vocal pick-ups for his "break" section, discussed in the Ed Bell Lyrics thread.  Each line of the break (with the exception of the last line) follows the following phrasing scheme:

   |      four beats      |      four beats     |      four beats + two beats  |

The final line of the break is done as a conventional four-bar phrase.

Ed Bell's guitar accompaniment for "Squabblin' Blues" is every bit as distinctive and personal- sounding as his vocal phrasing.  The primary ear-catching aspect of what Ed Bell plays is his maintaining of a droning open A string bass under the E phrases that accompany the opening line of the form.  The sound is one that nags at the ear, for it sounds like he is playing in two keys at once.  When Bell arrives at the second phrase, where the IV chord normally arrives, he keeps the A bass going under a more conventional A phrase, and the tension is released.  He doesn't really resolve to an E chord with E in the bass until the third bar of the second phrase.  Bell never really goes to a V chord, although he does a strongly emphasized rolling hammer into a B note on the fifth string for the downbeat of the first two measures in the third phrase, where the V chord would normally arrive.  The effect of the rolled hammers is beautifully integrated with the vocal phrasing, which in those two measures enters strongly on the + of the first beat, immediately following the hammers.
It is fascinating in looking at a performance like this to see the places where Ed Bell was perfectly consistent in his phrasing, and the contrasting places where he was a little more loosey-goosey, and felt comfortable with variation.  The construction of the piece is such that it argues for it being, except for very minor details, a set piece.
All best,
Johnm                 
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 06:58:30 AM by Johnm »

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #43 on: January 23, 2008, 02:36:50 PM »
I just been having a go at Uncle Bud Walkers "Stand up Suitcase" and I think it fits well with concept of this thread. I do not feel expert enough to analyse it fully myself, but perhaps jmm would take a listen?

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #44 on: January 24, 2008, 10:29:39 AM »
Thanks for the tip, Phil.  I will give "Stand Up Suitcase" a listen.  I'm away from my records now.  Is it on the old Yazoo "Goin' Away" anthology?
All best,
Johnm

 


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