‘A chicken is kinda like a cup of coffee.’ These are the words of Dave Matthews, an excerpt from his piece on page 102 explaining why chickens in the United States don’t stand a chance at survival.
But I don’t know this much yet; all I have gathered is that ‘A chicken is kinda like a cup of coffee’ as I wander through the magazine racks at my friendly neighborhood bookstore.
Matthews’ contemplation was chosen as Tracks’ spring 2004 issue’s outstanding quote, worthy of appearing on the spine of the publication. And as I turn to the cover and spot Norah Jones, I figure Tracks might just be a pretty good read.
So I give it a chance and am thankful to say that I find myself without disappointment.
First of all, Tracks scored one of the very few interviews that Jones agreed to sit for concerning her newest release, ‘Feels Like Home.’ I’m additionally impressed that, beginning with their next issue due out in May, Tracks is branching out and will begin publishing every other month instead of quarterly in order to seize ‘the chance to cover more music more frequently’ (‘From the Editor,’ page 14).
Tracks, the magazine that boasts ‘Music Built to Last,’ premiered its first issue last year to much praise from its initial readership. ‘Letters to the Editor’ on page 16 has fans proclaiming Tracks as ‘a most promising debut’ and ‘a long-needed, unfiltered and straight-up look at music.’ While one reader criticizes Tracks for covering an older generation of music (Sting appeared on the cover of the debut issue), it should also be noted that Tracks also gave props to the White Stripes, the Strokes, Ryan Adams and Beck.
But I’ll let you decide for yourself.
‘Opening Act’ begins on page 18. The section consists of two-page photos that somehow pay homage to important moments in music, such as the mob of fans in New York gathered to ‘celebrate the unveiling of Joey Ramone Place’ (page 20).
‘Jukebox’ initiates what is usually encountered much later in most music publications: CD reviews. Tracks introduces ‘Jukebox’ with a ‘Jukebox Crib Sheet,’ a checklist designed to allow readers to mark their interests, separated by genre, and then listen to and purchase the CDs at the magazine’s Web site at TracksMusic.com.
‘Jukebox’ kicks off with Johnny Cash’s ‘Unearthed,’ a five-disc collection that boasts plenty of guest stars and ‘a journey to the heart of American song’ (page 26).
Cash is followed by the ‘rock’ section of review. Here, readers find a mini-feature called ‘Britpop: The Next Generation,’ in which relatively lesser-known British bands Elbow and Starsailor are contrasted with more mainstream British groups like Coldplay and Radiohead.
Then come reviews of the latest from Ani DiFranco, Jonatha Brooke and Stereolab, followed by, among many others, Kate Rusby in the ‘Roots’ section, The Bottle Rockets in ‘Country’ and Mylab in ‘Whatever.’
On page 56 comes the Norah Jones interview, ‘After the Gold Rush.’ Interviewer Anthony DeCurtis ponders whether ‘unlikely superstar’ Jones will ‘continue to survive success’ with the release of her second album. According to the interview, adorable 24-year-old Jones has survived only because she doesn’t think about the success she’s experienced regardless of the eight Grammy awards she’s won for her first album. The interview is tastefully done with very little opinionated commentary on DeCurtis’ part, which gives the article a very organic feel and an as-intimate-as-possible look at Jones.
After a piece on Lou Reed (also authored by DeCurtis) and an article chronicling the Beatles’ 1964 arrival in the United States, John Mayer makes his entrance, talking about guitarist greats like Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan and citing his five favorite guitar albums.
Readers cruise on through with a piece that wonders if radio is dead, an interview with singer-songwriter Mindy Smith and an article showcasing Paul Green’s School of Rock Music. The rock school does most of what the Jack Black flick ‘School of Rock’ exhibited, except that the real-life, after-school, classic rock-based academy, located in Philadelphia with an enrollment of 160, came first.
‘SideTracks’ is where we finally encounter Dave Matthews speaking on his chicken brood outside Charlottesville, VA., in addition to a brief summary of the ‘Sweet Job’ of a jingle writer and the definition of modern-day home theater.
‘My Back Page’ wraps Tracks with a piece written by Fiona Apple and how she came off as a bigger bitch than she intended or even realized on a University of Southern California talk show.
All in all, Tracks has all the appeal that Interview Magazine held for me: It has quality but is unpretentious, boasting art that matters without coming off like a know-it-all that is trying too hard. However, I fail to identify any distinguishing features in Tracks that set it apart from its contemporaries in any obvious way. The exception is the Web site that parallels publication material by offering a cohesive place to listen to and buy music as seen in the magazine. This is not a new endeavor, as Paste Magazine does the same and takes it a step further by including a CD sampler with each issue. Still, Tracks is new and still learning, and I am therefore willing to praise it for its effort and its achievements, like the down-to-earth reporting style and tasteful coverage of artists like Jones.
Tracks is definitely worth your rainy Wednesday afternoon (which is where I presently find myself skimming its pages) and one should certainly keep an eye out for it beginning this May, when the magazine promises greater frequency in publication and therefore, greater frequency in reporting on music that matters.
Next week I’ll be test-driving a reader’s suggestion. And in the meantime, reach out for my email at firstname.lastname@example.org.