Fave Five: Musicians (#5)

Kevin Brown: I’m all for collaboration.  And here at Kevin Reviews Things, so is the rest of our staff.  So we (I) {no, Kevin, keep up the facade!…it’s “we”} have decided to open up the blog to some collaborators.  This week, we’re starting a new series called “Fave Five”, and our first iteration is with Alex Brewer, a good friend of the program.  More on him below.

This is a blog series where I’ll be debating back and forth with someone else for a week about our five favorites in some random category.  (There are no other Fave Fives in the works as of yet, so feel free to propose something to me at kevinnoble.brown@gmail.com.)  This week, Brewer and I will be writing about our five favorite living musicians, and debating why they’re our five favorites.  This does NOT mean “Five Best Living Musicians” – we’re opening it up to our individual enjoyment.  So while you can argue in the comments section about why I didn’t pick the guitarist from DragonForce, who I don’t doubt is amazingly talented, I don’t listen to DragonForce.  Sure, he might be a “better” musician then the guys I picked.  But we’re talking “favorite”, not “best”.

Wait, THIS guy is the DragonForce guitarist? Never mind, I’m changing my list.

Brewer, since you proposed the idea, why don’t you go ahead and tell the people what your criteria for choosing these musicians was?  (Also, hi.)

Alex Brewer: Well, first off, it is an honor to contribute to this fine blog you have created. Writing musician reviews alongside such great pieces about Subway sandwiches and Coolattas is a lifetime achievement for me.

My grading system for my top five is a combination of pure talent, versatility, and creativity. I have always appreciated most music and can see the good sides more often then not. However, my top five will consist of artists that I truly enjoy. Not only will I be making the argument as to why I think they are in my top five…but I will also argue why YOU should consider them outstanding musicians. I’m not taking this challenge lightly, and I hope (at minimum) I can introduce the fine readers of this blog to some music they may have never listened to.

KB: Thank you for referring to my readers as “fine”.  I would like to expand upon that and say they are “more than fine”, in fact.

I’m with you on the criteria.  I also valued songwriting a great deal in mine, but versatility was a big key.  I don’t believe I ended up going too off the beaten path with any of these picks, but I don’t think my musical taste is that far off the beaten path.  Unless the beaten path is paved with Top 40 hits, that is.

I’m going first because this is my blog.  You start us tomorrow.

5. Ben Folds

Honestly, I’m surprised to be writing this pick down.  There are absolutely better choices than Ben Folds for this spot…and yet, here I am.  Maybe it’s because I’ve got Folds stuck in my subconscious mind after seeing him a few weeks ago in Central Park, but I can’t pull the trigger.

As an (occasional) piano player myself, I’m partial to guys that can not only play sweet melodies, but can rock out on the piano.  And Folds is as versatile as it comes.  He can write a haunting piano ballad damn near as well as anyone.  Just listen to “Landed” or “Gracie” off of his solo album, Songs For Silverman, or check out “Fred Jones, Part 2” from Rockin’ the Suburbs.  Or…all right, fine, I have to…Ben Folds Five’s “Brick”, the biggest hit Folds has ever had as a solo musician or with the band.  (I do think “Brick” is an excellent song, but it overshadows, in my opinion, a much finer selection of Folds choices.)

But this is not a man whose musical mansion is built on a foundation of sappy tunes.  Oh, no.  This is a man who knows to rock, in and out of the suburbs.  Give me the insane, guitar-filled pop-rock of Suburbs’ title track, Brewer!  Or cue up “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” from BF5’s Whatever and Ever Amen, with its killer bass line and up-tempo piano runs.  Or how about a little slice of “Philosophy” from the band’s self-title debut album, with a coda fueled by George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”?  Or even “Saskia Hamilton”, a ridiculous Nick Hornby-penned track about a random poet that AllMusic describes as an “Oingo Boingo-meets-AC/DC oddity”?  Oingo Boingo meets AC/DC?  I’m starting to feel really good about this pick.

Is he making the “dynasty” sign?

Plus, Folds is a musical nerd.  He frequently likes to point this out, as evidenced by the two times I’ve seen him in concert.  He likes to point out techniques he uses during the show while educating the musically-illiterate among the crowds of the various differences between major and minor chords.  And lest you think he’s limited to piano, Folds played guitar, bass and drums on his solo albums.

To be honest, Brewer, I have no idea why this guy isn’t more well-known.  Any ideas?

AB: Yeah, I know exactly why he isn’t as well-known. It’s something I call the “Dave Matthews” effect. The DMB fan base is psychotic and cult-esque when it comes to their music. Folds fans fall under this category as well, but in a very different way. Ben is amazing at both songwriting and performance…so, we agree there. The problem is he might be too good. Dave Matthews is an EXTREMELY talented musician, but people either love him or hate him.

I think the same is true for Ben Folds…but with different criteria. It’s not love or hate…it’s enjoy or not enjoy. I think it’s pretty hard to find someone who HATES Folds because his music is very easy to listen to. People who don’t enjoy that genre tend to forget about him. People who do enjoy that genre worship. Unfortunately, the fan base of that genre isn’t really that big. Therefore, he is not that famous.

KB: That’s an interesting thought.  Also I hope it’s not a “Dave Matthews” effect, because I really don’t like Dave Matthews that much.  He generally bores me, I don’t love the voice, I don’t like crushing brews with flip-flops on at outdoor venues…DMB doesn’t do it for me.  Those of you who were hoping to see Boyd Tinsley on this list, sorry.

Who’s your #5?


 5. Jimmy Page

To me, this is a no-brainer.  Led Zeppelin, as a band, had all the versatility in the world, with Page possessing the most (in my humble opinion). He played in a band that is (arguably) the greatest rock band to ever rock in which he was one of the main creative geniuses. He is credited with inventing multiple different production techniques when it came to recording in the studio. His guitar riffs, while both complex and simple, roar with a certain uniqueness on every track. The music he had a massive hand in making quite literally invented genres (i.e. songs like No Quarter, Stairway to Heaven, etc.). During Zeppelin’s reign from 1969 to 1980, there were A LOT of influential rock banks. No band could change between blues, heavy rock, folk, ballad, and back again like Led Zeppelin. I give a lot of credit to Jimmy Page for them to have that ability.

Look, I know there are many other guitarists from that era who people will argue for and against compared to Jimmy Page. Let me make the simplest argument for Page I can. The following bands/artists have said to be influenced by Jimmy’s work: The Ramones, Queen, Boston, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Angus Young, Slash, Joe Satriani…just to name a few. If you have THAT many musicians influenced by your work in ONE genre….you deserve a top-five spot on my list. If you’re reading this and want to rip your hair out that I put him at #5 and not higher….he didn’t play all that much when I was growing up. I appreciate him. I love his guitar work. I don’t love him as much as the next four.

KB: Yeah, this is a no-brainer.  Page is easily a better musician than anyone else on my list, I think.  The reason I didn’t pick him is, well, he’s never really been active since I’ve liked music.  And that, in a competition of “favorites”, doesn’t help.  It took me a long time to get into Led Zeppelin…my dad, to my knowledge, has never owned a Zeppelin album, and they just sort of fell by the wayside.  And I’m excited because I still have much to discover, even though I do know them fairly well.  (It’s like Breaking Bad – I’ve watched two seasons, and it’s amazing, but I still have three seasons to go, and I’m pumped to find out what does happen.)

But man, Jimmy Page is a freaking legend.  I can just hear the opening riffs of “Dazed and Confused” and the guitar solo of “Rock And Roll” in my head…is it too late to change my picks?  Yes, yes, it is too late, unfortunately.  Also, you already picked him, and I have a feeling these lists are going to be mutually exclusive.

While we’re on the subject: gimme your three defining Jimmy Page songs.  Gun to your head.

Also, find me this outfit.

AB: “Since I’ve Been Loving You” (my favorite Zeppelin song), “Immigrant Song” (my second-favorite) and “No Quarter” (my third-favorite).  All three are so different, and that is the point.  He is just so damn good.  Since you asked, I’ll ask you…top three Ben Folds songs?

KB: Hang on!  I wanted to give my top three Zeppelin songs first.  Is that OK?  (Keep in mind that that is my blog, so your answer is irrelevant.)

AB: Gahh…whatever, fine.

KB: Thanks for being so compliant.  #3: “When The Levee Breaks”.  Slow burner, super satisfying.  #2: “Ramble On”.  Any song that gets the lyrics “the darkest depths of Mordor” in there is good for me.  #1: “Rock And Roll”.  I don’t care how simple it is – I think this would be my entrance song as a baseball reliever.  I don’t think I will ever hear a song that rocks any harder in my life.

As for Folds…this is impossible.  I have about 15 I want to pick…so I’ll go with, in some order, “Landed”, “Army” and “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”.  Or maybe “Annie Waits”.  Or maybe “Losing Lisa”.  Or maybe “Song For The Dumped”.  I realize I’ve gone far past three at this point.  Say something before I keep writing.

AB: I appreciate Ben Folds…but I have to say my favorites are the most famous ones.  Hate to be boring, but…“Brick”, “Landed” and “The Luckiest”…oh, and, that rap cover.  That was awesome.


On that note…we’re done for today.  Good work, Brewer.  We’ll pick it up again tomorrow.


Alex Brewer (@ACBrew) is a contributing writer for “Kevin Reviews Things”. Hailing from the lost and forgotten state of Maine, Alex enjoys music no one would think he listens to, Boston sports teams, and Starcraft 2 a little too much. 

Follow Kevin on twitter @kevinnbrown.


3 responses to “Fave Five: Musicians (#5)

  1. I prefer Jimmy Page to Ben Folds, so for the time being, Alex’s list is winning for me. Still a long ways to go, we’ll see how all of this plays out in the coming days, should be interesting.

  2. My predictions for Kevin’s remainders: Billie Joe, Billy Joel, Noel and Bruce
    For Brewer: not sure on FOUR others but I’m confident that Mr. Reznor will be in there.

  3. I’d be shocked if Reznor wasn’t #1 for Brew. Perhaps Oasis will be #1 for Brown. Foo Fighters for both of you.

    …but guys, no mention of Ben’s Ke$ha cover?! Who are you? 😛

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