Saturday, 4 November 2017

Heroes and Villains: Influence and Serendipity: And Pencils...

"That I know nothing, that the world I live in will go on escaping me forever."
Paul Auster

How we miss our lives is life enough for most of us.
Opportunities abound but we're mostly looking the other way.
Sometimes we need other folk to point out what we are missing.
Some things are worth sharing, if only for the civility of sharing.
Sometimes we reach out to connect.
Sometimes we reach out to see if others are feeling as disconnected as we are.
Sometime we are disappointed not to make an expected connection.
Sometimes unexpected connections can amaze and astound.
Different names for the same hat.

This morning I was lying in the bath, with Spotify playing randomly from the world's vast library of music, reading Paul Auster. Auster is one of my favorite writers. Besides his novels he also writes beautifully about his life: the things that have led him to where he now abides. 'The Red Notebook' is a slight thing, chock full of anecdotes, small moments, minutiae that most of us would pass over, let alone write about. His non fiction hints at what inspires the writer: in Auster's case primarily memory, identity and chance. They say that stories cannot exist without storytellers and that stories will not endure unless they are well told. Auster is a fine story teller whose elegant prose can make the most mundane moments resonate. Auster's words will endure. 

"I learned that books are never finished, that it is possible for stories to go on writing themselves without an author.” 

Anyway... back in the bath:
Much of 'The Red Notebook' recognizes the potency of coincidence. There are moments of serendipity, missed chances and close shaves. All cleverly catalogued without any conclusions drawn other than a 'what are the chances?' shrug. Auster tells of how during all four flat tires of his life he had the same passenger in the car with him. He tells of Ralph, the boy who got struck and killed by a lightning bolt that was surely destined for Auster. I got to the last chapter of the book entitled 'Why I Write'. It concludes with this story: An 8 year old Paul Auster met his hero, baseball player Willie Mays. The young Auster shyly asked Mays for his autograph. Mays replied "Sure kid, sure. You got a pencil?" Auster continues:

"The great Willie Mays stood there watching in silence. When it became clear that no one in the group had anything to write with, he turned to me and shrugged. “Sorry, kid,” he said. “Ain’t got no pencil, can’t give no autograph.” And then he walked out of the ballpark into the night.
After that night, I started carrying a pencil with me wherever I went. It became a habit of mine never to leave the house without making sure I had a pencil in my pocket. It’s not that I had any particular plans for that pencil, but I didn’t want to be unprepared. I had been caught empty-handed once, and I wasn’t about to let it happen again.
If nothing else, the years have taught me this: if there’s a pencil in your pocket, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll feel tempted to start using it.
As I like to tell my children, that’s how I became a writer."

As I read this story Spotify played Joe Henry's 'Our Song'. 
It tells of the narrator coming across... you guessed it: Willie Mays.
What are the chances?

“I saw Willie Mays
In a Scottsdale Home Depot
Looking at garage door springs
At the far end of the fourteenth row.”

Rather than asking for an autograph he listens in to Mays talking despondantly to his wife:

This was my country
This was my song
Somewhere in the middle there
It started badly and it’s ending wrong

This was my country
This frightful and this angry land
But it’s my right if the worst of it
Might somehow make me a better man.

Another story of disappointment then, this time from the mouth of the All American Hero himself. 
Interestingly the reason I was in the bath was to get away from the radio: specifically the clatter and clutter of the news: more graceless guff from anti-hero Trump, Stateside. So, not just the coincidence of two disparate stories colliding, with the same baseball hero (and featuring similar subject matter), but also... those lines written in 2007, pre-echoing the current disappointment, embarrassment, shame and fear at the face on the American coin: something articulated everyday by so many of my American friends: they surely deserve a better man...
As 'Our Song' concludes, the narrator casts doubt on himself.

That was him,
I’m almost sure,
The greatest centerfielder
Of all time.

He’s just like us,
I want to tell him,
Stooped by the burden of endless dreams,
His, and yours, and mine

"Stooped by the burden of endless dreams, his and yours and mine"
Now there's a sagely inclusive line: a timely reminder to our leaders that they shoulder our hopes.
It made me jump out of the bath and reach for this virtual pencil.
If you can, get hold of a copy of 'The Red Notebook', and then run yourself a bath.
Then put Spotify on 'random' and, you never know, as you get to the last chapter, you might just get struck by lightning, or... if you're lucky 'Our Song' might come on. 
It really is Our song: his and yours and mine.
May that moment come to you in brighter times: a time when the most powerful man in the world is not a narcissistic surface feeder, but a deep thinker with broad shoulders, emotional intelligence and a social conscience: A compassionate leader with a plan and a pencil in his hand.
Hopefully a hero: or at least a better man.
What are the chances?

Friday, 3 November 2017

Lovesong: Talk-Show: Permanent Honeymoon

I love this. Talk-Show is songwriter Lawrence O'Shea. The offerings are a fascinating melange of troubadour song-smithery and 70's influenced pop. I hear T. Rex sipping (slightly out of date) cocktails with James Taylor and Macca. It's a heady, tasty, out of time capsule that is oddly compelling. Melody is the master but there's a vibrant buoyancy that reminds me of Boo Hewerdine's latest offering 'Swimming in Mercury'. No surprise then to see that Boo is listed as 'Executive Producer' and appears on one of the tracks. The sonics are dynamic and compelling: kudos to the recording and mixing talents of Chris Pepper who also twiddled Boo's knobs on the aforementioned... Another star of the Talk-Show is Danish multi-instrumentalist Gustaf Llunggren whose wonderful woozy woodwind offers Nordic warmth to the affair. Nordic warmth? Yup, it's a transcendent conundrum of an album: one that's a pleasure to puzzle over. Regardless of the stellar support, O'Shea is very much the star of his own show: his voice both doleful and hopeful. It's that strident vocal performance that holds the 10 songs in such ear catching, fuzzy focus. He might have his back to us but Lawrence is surely stage centre. 'Permanent Honeymoon' is perfectly displaced and our hero displaces us perfectly: disorienting, knowing, wry, sanguine, yet with a melancholic underbelly that you want to tickle and cuddle at the same time.
These are songs to ponder and prance too.
Why were they not on the radio yesterday?

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Lovesong: Joe Henry: Thrum

The new Joe Henry album 'Thrum' is a beguiling mixture of obtuse lyricism and sombre, sonic beauty. T'aint 'whistle test' catchy but, boy, does its timbre get under your skin.
The vinyl version is spread over 4 luxuriant, syrupy sides: noiseless and quite startling in clarity.
Joe's son Levon is the prime accompanist, offering wonderfully wheezy woodwind, whilst the long
standing rhythm section of bassist David Piltch and drummer Jay Bellerose stitch everything together with a gloriously funereal clatter and... thrum. There's some fine guest guitar from John Smith too.
Thus far it's hard to pick a favorite, although 'The Glorious Dead' and 'River Floor' (see the video below) are just lovely, whilst the subtle orchestrations of 'Keep Us in Song' shuffle and slide, broken backed, yet somehow standing tall.

When I've worked out what Joe's banging on about (“The bride throws off her veil onto the groom. Salvation’ meaning nothing but ‘consumed’”?) this might just rank as my 'Album of the Year' alongside Neil Finn's wondrous 'Out of Silence'. It's certainly my most silent vinyl purchase of 2107.
Instinctive, live and perfectly imperfect is the new black and it suits me just fine.
I like Joe Henry...

Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Hat Club: 30th September: Michael McDermott

Mark your calendars for our next gig...

Michael McDermott, Saturday 30th September 2017.

Often likened to Dylan and Springsteen, 2016 was a big year for Chicago singer/songwriter Michael McDermott. Voted Best Male Artist by Americana-UK readers as well as top 3 Live Act, his album Willow Springs received several Best of 2016 awards as well as reaching the Number 1 spot in the Euro Americana charts. American Roots UK described it as one of the best album of the 21st century.
His live shows are legendary. Author Stephen King describes him as “one of the greatest songwriters”.
Once touted as Rock’s “Next Big Thing” following a major label signing in his early 20s, success seemed guaranteed with MTV, Rolling Stone and The New York Times tipping Michael for the top. A music industry in turmoil and some 20 years spent fighting addictions saw Michael take a different path. Now over 3 year’s clean the emergence of Willow Springs showed how right those original pundits were.
Michael’s band The Westies, which he formed with his wife Heather Horton, have featured on both Bob Harris's Country Show and Sunday show and Michael recorded a session last December with Bob Harris for Radio 2. Michael’s live shows are legendary. In 2015 he broke off a European tour for one night in London, described aptly by the local promoter "the date was May Day bank holiday Sunday and because it was a 3-day weekend we had people flying and driving from all over the UK for that one night. It was a barnstormer".

“This is one of the most desperate, haunting, unforgettable yet musically balanced albums you will ever listen to…Unforgiving and Unforgettable.” (Americana UK)
“I'm a believer. One of the best albums that have reached these ears in a long time.”(No Depression)

“A wonderful true record” (Whispering Bob Harris, BBC UK)

“This album is one of the best, not only of this year, but of the 21st century” (American Roots UK)

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Hat Club: Michael McDermott: September 30th

Mark your calendars for our next Hat Club gig:
Michael McDermott, Saturday 30th September 2017.

Often likened to Dylan and Springsteen, 2016 was a big year for Chicago singer/songwriter Michael McDermott. Voted Best Male Artist by Americana-UK readers as well as top 3 Live Act, his album Willow Springs received several Best of 2016 awards as well as reaching the Number 1 spot in the Euro Americana charts. American Roots UK described it as one of the best album of the 21st century.
His live shows are legendary. Author Stephen King describes him as “one of the greatest songwriters”.
Once touted as Rock’s “Next Big Thing” following a major label signing in his early 90s, success seemed guaranteed with MTV, Rolling Stone and The New York Times tipping Michael for the top. A music industry in turmoil and some 20 years spent fighting addictions saw Michael take a different path. Now over 3 year’s clean, the emergence of Willow Springs showed how right those original pundits were.
Michael’s band The Westies, which he formed with his wife Heather Horton, have featured on both Bob Harris's Country Show and Sunday show and Michael recorded a session last December with Bob Harris for Radio 2. Michael’s live shows are legendary. In 2015 he broke off a European tour for one night in London, described aptly by the local promoter "the date was May Day bank holiday Sunday and because it was a 3-day weekend we had people flying and driving from all over the UK for that one night. It was a barnstormer".

“This is one of the most desperate, haunting, unforgettable yet musically balanced albums you will ever listen to…Unforgiving and Unforgettable.” 
Americana UK

“I'm a believer. One of the best albums that have reached these ears in a long time.” 
No Depression

“A wonderful true record” 
'Whispering' Bob Harris, BBC UK

“This album is one of the best, not only of this year, but of the 21st century” 
American Roots UK

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

In Memory of Delme

I've just heard that one of my favourite teachers Gordon 'Delme' Thomas has died.
Back in 2013.
How did I miss that?
I was a border at Ermysteds 1971 to 78. He instilled a passion within me for the written word: I was a dullard then, he helped me to see the beauty in language and taught me to look for a laugh, even in the stiffest prose. He also taught me how to seam a cricket ball and throw a dummy to the opposite '10'. Years after leaving school I coached Varsity rugby at The American School in London. At the start of every Fall term I'd take my relative fledglings up to Yorkshire where Delme would arrange a Saturday fixture with the 1st XV and a Sunday mauling up at Wharfedale. Of course the Yorkshire lads would thrash and kick the crap out of my boys who always came away from the weekend bewildered but buoyant, more in love with the game, beer and each other than on the Friday. Delme was always a kindly and witty host. He'd fuel me and my assistant coach with Tetley's and tales of... me. Me: 'twinkle toes'. His protege. His blue eyed boy. He remembered every break that I'd made, every dummy scissors, every tackle, every perfectly place chip. And this was the magic of Delme Thomas. He made every kid under the shadow of his beaky, beady eyed gaze feel like a potential hero. His selfless enthusiasm for life was addictive; he always put the boy stage centre. He was Merlin to many Arthurs. Under that benevolent beam we all felt emboldened, enhanced. We believed in ourselves. And yet... if we ever got 'up' ourselves he was quick to stick a pin in an over inflated ego with a withering, witty critique, that trademark guffaw echoing as chastised, humbled and a little dazed, we reset ourselves, wiping his spittle off our over pumped chests. He inspired us to be modest heroes: not a bad carrot to dangle to a wide eyed kid; all of us heroes in our own little orbits. He taught us to love life, to love ourselves, to laugh at ourselves, and to love our mates. Delme recognised the alchemy of childhood, encouraging camaraderie, coaxing us gently out of the playground and onto the pitch. He wasn't the only one to smooth the transition: Adge Douglas and Vernon Rook surely played their part, but while you kind of knew that they hung up their hats at the end of every teaching day, you sensed that Delme was forever on point, there when needed.
'You were a cheeky little bastard and never quite as good as I thought you'd be' was his assessment of my rugby ability 20 odd years later, 'but Christ, you had the best hands of any fly half I've ever coached." As a 40 year old I felt again the power of DT. Emboldened, an inch taller. I believed in me. As I strolled to the bar (as directed) he shouted after me "Ah, but cricket? Hopeless! You coming in at 11. Us needing 5 off the last over. You straight batting every delivery like Boycott. 'Playing yourself in' for Chist's sake! You were a witless little f*cker Jones." he cackled, spraying my back with spittle. But he'd remembered. He'd remembered. And I remember him on the touchline, a prompting Prospero; spitting, cursing, chiding, encouraging, praising, howling with laughter. His beady eye on me, only me: his blue eyed boy.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Hat Club: April 1st 2017: Brooke Sharkey & Adam Beattie

Last night's Hat Club saw the return, two years to the day, of Adam Beattie and Brooke Sharkey. They had new albums to tout and we were treated to some wonderful moments of balladry and candour. Their album titles tell you everything: Adam's 'The Road Not Taken'; Brooke's 'Wandering Heart'. Both are blithe, wandering spirits, true troubadours who reveal more and more as each song unwinds. Not so much an unravelling, more an open invitation to share in their vulnerabilities. 

Adam's tender tales are offered in hushed and halting timbre, confessional, humorously faltering, yet sure darts to the heart. He revealed himself with 'The Man I've Become' and offered stories of past lovers in 'Catch the Biggest Fish and Let it Go'. The biggest emotional catch of the night came with a composition in memory of his centenarian Grandfather 'A Song of a Hundred Years'. It's a simple tote of changing times, a thing of misty eyed wonder:

"I was born when horses pulled the plough
And marriage held by but a vow
A beggar’s hand assumed sincere
Much has changed these hundred years"

We all joined in the chorus and you could hear a catch in the voices of the hardiest hearts:

"Hold me high and send me low
For it is time for me to go
And in my eyes you’ll see no tears
For I have lived one hundred years"

Brooke is a fascinating bundle of whispered wonders. 
She sings as daughter, child, mother, lover; there's an exotic and sensual nature to her tremulous delivery that adds to a feeling of otherworldliness. Some songs were in her mother tongue and that impenetrable chanson added to the impression that her performance is as much about feeling as it is about meaning. 

Songs from a siren: Brooke floated fragile above Sam Pert's delicate, intelligent drumming, with the warm and dark sensuality of cellist Dominie Hooper's flowing, meandering, syrupy lines adding to a feeling of haunting displacement. It was oddly moving and strangely unsettling: just as you nestled in convention, Brooke led you elsewhere. And it was a beguiling, bewilderingly beautiful journey, one that led all too soon to a stunning finale. 'Sailor's Wife' floated upon a shimmering guitar chord loop, and a lovely, prodding, cyclical drum pattern from Sam. The story is that of a woman who longs to have 'wild in her eyes' but ends in 'a cushioned cage':

"She fell in love, with a man on a boat
His sails were high, he could keep them afloat
But her bones ached and he would grind his ivory body on their love left behind.
She was the type to keep her end of the bet,
but with nothing to feed off, half way she met,
a married man, soft and strong,
his heard of silk had been stamped upon."

The song is worldly, yet not of this world, an intoxicating cocktail of traditional shanty and woozy modernity that perfectly illustrates the duality of this unsettling and enchanting performer's allure. Naive and knowing. 
Perfectly petit yet sturdy and strong. 
A wandering heart for sure: broken but sanguine, four faithful chambers full of blood, sweat and tears.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

A Kind of Slipping Away...

30 years ago.
My oh my.
30 years ago Di and I attended our first gig together.
It was at the UCL in the Aldwych.
I had dragged my new 'squeeze' (then a disco disciple) out to sample the folk musings and jangling introspections of Boo Hewerdine and The Bible.
The support band was Deacon Blue for Christ's Sake...
Di, initially reticent, was ultimately smitten and thus her rehabilitation began: Tom Waits being the next hurdle.
But I digress...
Tonight we joined the puckered pilgrimage to watch The Bible reform to perform 'Under the Bridge' at Stamford Bridge; a 'one off' 30 year reunion. Synchronicity indeed for Di and I. It being Chelsea, if 'blue was the colour' it initially seemed that the game was more about blue rinse and Blue Stratos than anything more sanguine... Things soon became more buoyant: Not since haunting a memorable Blue Nile gig (at The Albert Hall around the 'Peace at Last' album) have I seen so many misty eyed middle aged men punching the air in dolorous delight. 'Love at second sight will see me through' sang Boo and we all nodded 'Oooh yeeess', sagely, like that fricking Churchill dog. Boo fronted things gamely like a 'have a go hero' in his ultimate dream life; a happy rabbit in the headlights; gleefully throwing shapes that his 50 year old hips would surely question in the morning. That sweet, venerable vibrato endures: as vulnerably swoon-some as memory pledged. And the band made a glorious sound. Guitars chimed, rhythms syncopated, jazz infused chords were diminished just so... reassuring us that, yes, we had known our onions. The delights were many: 'Mahalia', 'Honey be Good' and 'Skywriting', before the inevitable goosebumps of 'Graceland'. Then came the night's revelation: 'King Chicago'. "And I love you a little bit more than I love myself... home of my heart" seemed to ring true as many grabbed at partners and joined the swelling chorus. It was a real 'chicken skin' moment. Our creased and crumpled heroes threw themselves manfully at the songs with a dynamic gusto and dextrous clarity of intent; keenly displaying a musicality that more than justified those aged Steely Dan comparisons. But this was no disparate Dan; there was a muscular thump and rattle, an earnest integrity to the playing that could do nowt but make us love and reclaim them as our own.
And there we were, as the dust settled, sated and sure, slapping our virtual friends on the back; misty eyed strangers who we knew inside out, after a mutual baring of souls on FB. We stood there standing: a mugging and a hugging in a kindly way; kissing like statues, reeling in the years, recognising what we were, what we'd become and what we'd never be.
The euphoria of nostalgia eh?
The wondrous power of music: to filter, distil and fulfil. To move you to that moment when you clock your younger self and realise that you might have actually known what you were about.
It was kind of wonderful: a kind of living, a kind of loving, a kind of slipping away...

Friday, 20 January 2017

Private Darkness/Public Light

"Imagine for a moment the true weight of what it fundamentally means to be proud of your desires instead of shamed by them. It means that the things that wholly stir you in private darkness are the same things that you honor and fight for faithfully in the broad light of day. When this man wants to steal a kiss with his beloved away from prying eyes, it is not a fear of discovery that leads them into shadow, but a deeply held respect for each other and for the life that they share and together build upon."

Wise and empathetic words from songwriter Joe Henry in his assessment of outgoing President Obama. I agree with his thoughts about honouring your desires rather than becoming hostage to them. I reckon that a man's true character is shown by how he behaves when no-one is watching, but also by how he chooses to present himself to the world.
Of course I don't know the man, but you've got speak as you see: I fear that Donald's 'private darkness' is a world away from a burning light. I also fear that there's likely to be little or no moderation or modification shown in deference to his wife and family. Where Barack has the temperance of Michelle to help shape, define and refine his world, I suspect that for Trump, Melania and family are nowt but pretty props, with little or no influence on his world view. If Donald's anything he is truly his 'own man'.
Is he driven by self-love or self-loathing? 
Those inner narratives are surely private; the unholy "alliance between voyeurism and exhibitionism". 
And why should we care? 
It's rude to stare. 
But given today's inauguration how can we not? 
The trouble is that much of Trump's success comes from being a self-proclaimed 'straight talker'; a man ever increasingly keen to wear his inside out. For most of us our demons are defined and confined by inner boundaries and tethered by some sense of dignity and self-restraint. I'm guessing that Trump, now more than ever, feels empowered to boldly parade what would be better suppressed. He's moved beyond moral self-assessment and now, to Donald, America's lofty endorsement of his character and potential is an ultimate affirmation of his eccentric personality; delusional quirks 'n' all. He does like to strut his stuff; shooting fearlessly and without caution from hip and lip. But with his often baffling streams of consciousness,  he's not only displaying a cluttered and confused inner mind, he's also publicly proving himself unstable, impulsive and reactionary; not traits befitting a statesman and politician.
Is there power to be had from unpredictability?
Is he chameleon, comedian, corinthian or caricature?
Fish or fowl?
Demagogue or dictator?
He's certainly no public servant. 
And privately? 
We all have a right to an inner life. 
We can choose not to give form to our dark, shadowy thoughts. 
In this, let's hope that Trump's private examinations remain unspoken.

Friday, 23 December 2016

The D.C. Cooper 40 Favourite New Albums of 2016

We all love a list; particularly at the end on the year.
Here's the first of a few; this from a brother of a mate.
I play squash with Jim Cooper and he always talks of his bro's eclectic taste.
He's not wrong, I know about 6 of these 60 artists.
His number 1 is a revelation; I do like a bit of Stephen Fosteresque heartache and anyone who cover's Kate McGarrigle’s “(Talk to Me of) Mendocino” is a friend of mine.
So, here's a brother of a friend of mine's list.
I've never met D.C. Cooper but I imagine that he looks like a slightly more intelligent version of his pretty smart brother Jimbo. Something a bit like the furrowed brow on the right then...
Not so smart with his counting; he manages to cram 60 albums into his Top 40.
Perhaps that explains Jim's score keeping on the squash court...
Jimbo btw is responsible for a little scar under my right eye... but that's another story.
Here's a mainly instrumental trip around some unfamiliar backstreets.

The D.C. Cooper 40 Favourite New Albums of 2016

We’ve all read so many “Albums of the Year” lists now, that we’re full to bursting. But I hope you have room for at least one more helping. Because here comes the Cooper Favourite New Albums of 2016 list, and I like to think that it’s worth a quick glance. When I’ve done lists of previous years, I’ve restricted myself to 40 albums, but 2016 has been such an outstanding 12 months full of fine records that I’ve been compelled to expand the chart to an unprecedented 60 titles. And I still found there wasn’t room for albums by perennial favourites like Paul Simon and Lucinda Williams in the sixty.
Looking at the list, I see that 39 out of the albums are wholly or almost wholly instrumental, while only 21 are basically albums of songs. I don’t know why this is. I’ve certainly never made a conscious decision to seek out more music without the human voice on it; it’s just happened that way. One’s tastes mutate and evolve as the years go by.
My Sounds of 2016. 
Here they all are:

1. Chaim Tannenbaum – Chaim Tannenbaum

Top of the heap is a guy who’s made his debut album at the age of 69. It was worth the wait. I was going to say something like “No one’s mentioned it on the Afterword at all,” but yesterday Artery pipped me at the post and sang its praises in the “Best Albums of 2016” thread. One could hardly imagine a more Afterword-friendly album: Tannenbaum has been an associate of and sung with the McGarrigles and the Wainwrights for decades. The rest of the time, he’s had a day job as a university lecturer in philosophy in Montreal. The album is sensitively produced by modern US folk musicologist Dick Connette, with sleeve notes by the great Joe Boyd.
Most of the tracks are traditional folk and spiritual numbers, beautifully arranged and sung. There’s also a respectful version of Kate McGarrigle’s “(Talk to Me of) Mendocino” sung with Kate’s ex-husband Loudon Wainwright. Best of all are the two original songs – “Brooklyn 1955,” about Tannenbaum’s childhood in the Jewish quarter of Flatbush, and the 10-minute “London, Longing for Home,” about the five rainy months he spent in central London in 1971. Evoking the spirit of Edmund Spenser, it’s a wistful, elegiac piece, and unquestionably my favourite song of the year.
In “Brooklyn 1955,” he sings of watching the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Well, to use the corniest old baseball metaphor, Tannenbaum, in his debut appearance, has stepped up to the plate and hit the ball clean out of the park.

2. Yorkston/Khan/Thorne – Everything Sacred
Did you hear the one about the Mancunian, the Scotsman and the Indian? They made one of the best jazz/folk/Indian fusion albums of all time! Succeeds spectacularly where many such crossover projects flounder.

3. Andy Shauf – The Party

Third album by singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan, Canada. A sort of a concept album, apparently, focusing on the various people attending a party in a small town. Shauf has a thin, whiny voice which I find strangely appealing. Most of all, his songs and the arrangements of them remind me of the great, much-missed Elliott Smith.

4. Lloyd Swanton – Ambon
Lloyd Swanton is the double-bass player of the Necks. Ambon is a 2CD + book package which tells the true story of Lloyd’s uncle, Stuart Swanton, who died in a Japanese PoW camp in 1945. Lloyd has done his uncle proud. He’s assembled a 13-piece ensemble to tell the musical story of camp life in those terrible years through a series of hymns and instrumental pieces.

5. Ryan Teague – Site Specific
Eight instrumentals played on a Fender Rhodes, guitar, percussion and bass clarinet. Jazz-informed, but not jazz. A very rewarding listen.

6. Various Artists – Day of the Dead
A 5CD box of Grateful Dead covers. No – wait! Come back! It’s really good. Honestly it is. Bryce and Aaron Dessner of the National do a sterling job in curating and producing the whole set, and appearing on a few tracks as well. The collection is something that can be enjoyed by Deadheads and non-Deadheads alike. There are fresh new takes on around 60 Dead songs from artists as diverse as Orchestra Baobab, Tim Hecker, Béla Fleck and the Flaming Lips. I prefer many of the versions to the Dead’s originals, and for me that’s no mean feat.

7. Leyla McCalla – A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey
Second solo album by cellist and vocalist McCalla, a former member of Carolina Chocolate Drops. She lives in New Orleans and her parents are from Haiti, and so the francophone influence on her music is strong from two directions. A lovely sparse sound. Spiritual, deep roots music from the Americas. Highly, highly recommended.

8. Conscious Sounds & Partial Records – Hackney Dub
A modern approach to dub, from a couple of East London crews. The main guy behind it seems to be the Hackney-based dubmaster Dougie Wardrop. An uncompromising and riveting sound.

9. Jean-Michel Blais – Il
Phenomenal set of supremely melodic solo piano pieces by obscure French Canadian chap. If you like Chilly Gonzales’s “Solo Piano” album, then dive in.

10. Suzanne Vega – Lover, Beloved: Songs from an evening with Carson McCullers
This is from some 2011 stage show about the life of “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” hitmaker. Ms Vega writes a set of songs that are light and witty – bouncier and jazzier than her standard material. This may be her best ever record, at the age of 57.

11. Johánn Johánnsson – Orphée
Johánnsson is suddenly a pretty big star in the world of ambient and modern chamber/classical music. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.

12. Markus Stockhausen & Florian Weber – Alba
Very lovely and surprisingly delicate piano/trumpet duo album on ECM

13. Littlebow – Three
Very English instrumental trio: flutes, cello, harp, piano, clarinet. Sounds like a modern cousin of Virginia Astley’s “From Gardens Where We Feel Secure” LP from 1983.

14. Mammal Hands – Floa
Gondwana Records’ fourth signing make a big step forward from their debut. Some top tunes here.

15. Brigid Mae Power – Brigid Mae Power
Sounds a bit like Elizabeth Fraser out of the Cocteau Twins singing slightly folkier material.

16. David Bowie – Blackstar
Erm … you know this one, right?

17. Ryley Walker – Golden Sings that have been Sung
My favourite of his three albums so far.

18. Sokratis Sinopoulos Quartet – Eight Winds
I’ve only just received this. It’s the most recent purchase on the list, and it sounds really good. Maybe if I’d had it a couple of weeks longer, it would’ve been top 5. If you like the sound of the Greek lyra and you like the glacial, spacey ECM house vibe, then you must hear this. One for late winter evenings.

19. Djelimady Tounkara – Djely Blues
The aging Malian guitar maestro records fairly sparingly nowadays, but when the albums finally arrive, they’re always ones to cherish.

20. Dele Sosimi Meets Prince Fatty/Nostalgia 77 – You No Fit Touch Am in Dub
Someone had the brilliant idea of doing a dub version of the You No Fit Touch Am album by former Fela Kuti keyboardist Dele Sosimi. If you like Afrobeat AND dub, then buy with confidence.

21. Steve Gunn – Eyes on the Lines
This sounds like all Steve Gunn’s other albums. But that means it sounds good.

22. Marisa Anderson – Into the Light
“Written as the soundtrack to an imaginary science-fiction western film”, apparently. And she makes a pretty good job of it, too.

23. Ilya Beshevli – Wanderer
Solo piano player from the frozen Siberian wilderness. Beautiful, and always very accessible pieces.

24. Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano & Jan Lundgren – Mare Nostrum II
A trumpet, accordion and piano trio. The telepathy between these guys is really something.

25. The Hardy Tree – Through Passages of Time
‘The Hardy Tree’ is Frances Castle, the illustrator behind Clay Pipe Records’ beautiful artwork. Now she’s put out some music, too: an instrumental suite with plenty of moog and mellotron. Nice.

26. Einar Scheving – Intervals
The Icelandic chamber jazz album of the year. Oh yes!

27. Jan Lundgren – The Ystad Concert: A Tribute to Jan Johansson
Concert given by Swedish pianist Lundgren (and a string quartet) in tribute to an illustrious predecessor of his, the great Jan Johansson, who died in a car crash in 1968, aged only 37.

28. Kacy & Clayton – Strange Country
Beguiling folk duo: two cousins from Saskatchewan – one female, one male. Sound like their influences are more British than North American. A short album, but a good ‘un. I can imagine quite a few Afterworders going for this.

29. North Sea Radio Orchestra – Dronne
Craig Fortnum and his NSRO pals again conjure up the sweetest large-ensemble chamber folk, somewhat in the spirit of the Penguin Café Orchestra.

30. Three Cane Whale – Palimpsest
The odd little chamber folk trio from Bristol continue to make enchanting sounds

31. Aziza Brahim – Abbar El Hamada
Charming, very accessible desert blues from Western Sahara

32. John Zorn (and the Gnostic Trio) – The Mockingbird
Bill Frisell (guitar), Carol Emanuel (harp) and Kenny Wollesen (vibes) present another delicate, mesmerizing suite of compositions by the superhumanly productive Zorn.

33. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious
His second best album, after “Break it Yourself”

34. Allison Miller’s Tic Tic Boom – Otis was a Polar Bear
The only proper, swinging American jazz album in my Top 60. How strange.

35. Nathan Bowles – Whole and Cloven
Paradise of Bachelors Records can do no wrong with their roster of modern fingerpickers.

36. Bartosz Kruczyński ‎– Baltic Beat 
Beautiful, relaxing piano-based ambient work inspired by the beaches on the Baltic coast of Poland.

37. East of the Valley Blues – EOTVB
Torontonian brothers Kevin and Patrick Cahill serve up some tasty American Primitive guitar in a duo format.

38. Mats Eilertsen – Rubicon
Thoroughly enjoyable ECM outing from the Norwegian double-bassman’s all-star septet.

39. P.J. Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
A bit like “Let England Shake”. But not quite as good.

40. Chuck Johnson – Velvet Arc
Absolutely first rate ‘American primitive’ guitarist. Not quite as stripped-down and bare as his two previous outings. More of fleshed-out band sound.

41. Alasdair Roberts & James Green – Plaint of Lapwing
More keening, left-field wyrd folk from the estimable Glaswegian.

42. Claire M. Singer – Solas
Ms Singer finally puts 14 years of music from performance art on a double CD. Soundscapes built up from organ, cello and electronics.

43. Dead Light – Dead Light
Debut album by English ambient/tape loop/synth duo. Rather nice.

44. Glenn Jones – Fleeting
Another fine US guitarist in the John Fahey/Jack Rose tradition. Lovely.

45. Daniel Bachman – Daniel Bachman
US primitive guitarist stretches out into some more raga territory here.

46. C Joynes & Nick Jonah Davis – Spill Electric
Two English guitarists duelling mightily through two sides of caustic instrumentals. A bit like Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd trying to play different selections from the John Fahey songbook at the same time. Obscure but well worth tracking down.

47. Palle Sollinger & Fredrik Hermansson – Brännkyrkagatan 44
Some exquisite, brief jazz piano and double bass duets recorded in someone’s front room in central Stockholm (plus a little clarinet here and there). Anyone who likes the Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden duet albums would go for this, I reckon

48. Allen Toussaint – American Tunes
A worthy farewell by the N’Orleans keyboard legend.

49. Itasca – Open to Chance

50. Brigaden – Om Lill, Jesus, Alberto och våra föräldrar
Brassy, good-time Swedish folk-jazz

51. Mathias Landaeus – From the Piano
Landaeus states categorically that the only instrument used on this album is an upright piano. So the bits that sound like a synthesizer and percussion must be him doing very weird things with the piano. Bizarre but intriguing.

52. Peter Broderick – Music for Confluence
A beautiful piano-based soundtrack from the versatile and prolific Oregonian.

53. Dana Falconberry & Medicine Bow – From the Forest Came the Fire
All Joanna Newsom fans, please step this way

54. Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band – The Rarity of Experience Pts. I & II
Forsyth’s full, casually abrasive guitar sound still reminds me a bit of Television, but with fewer vocals and a somewhat more down-home style.

55. Trio Medieval – Aquilonis
Commendable ECM outing by Norwegian female classical vocal/instrumental trio.

56. Dylan Golden Aycock – Church of Level Track
Scissor Tail Records are on target again with this stylish Oklahoman fingerpicker.

57. Kenneth James Gibson – The Evening Falls
A fine, fine slice of US ambient loveliness

58. Christine Ott – Only Silence Remains
The ondes martenot is one of the strangest musical instruments ever. Here it here!

59. Per Oddvar Johansen – Let’s Dance
Typically plangent Norwegain chamber jazz.

60. Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate
Starts off better than it finishes

Friday, 9 December 2016

John Lennon: It Was 36 Years Ago Today

I was relatively unaffected by Elvis's death; partly because he was not of my generation and also
because it was natural/self induced. Lennon however was a huge part of my childhood induction into a culture that still brings joy daily. My grief (beyond the horror of the unnatural circumstances and the stupidity of Chapman's futile 'gesture') was that I'd lost a huge part of my living proof that 'magic' did exist in the form of flesh and blood. They say that parents give kids pets to prepare them for loss. I'd buried quite a few cats and dogs by that point. I'd always had to work up the tears previously. Sorrow always seemed a part sentient, part self-induced parade. Nothing could've prepped me for that wretched gut feeling. My grief was personal, not collective. John had mattered to me, and in my own way. I had made him mine. And he and my other 'heroes' are with me now; still shape me daily. We are all similarly effected. All of Us. You cannot overstate the importance of those early influences and the ice cold heat of that first deathly kick in the bollocks. Yet somehow that loss improves us. Adds a layer of understanding. We were gifted by his life and somehow enhanced and advanced by his passing. Hard to articulate such a primal reaction. Too easy to lose that sense with guff and gush.
Maya Angelou was more succinct:

"And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always irregularly.

Spaces fill with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. 
They existed.
We can be. 
Be and be better. 
For they existed."

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Toronto Tim Says: TT's 'Best of 2016'

Yup, it's that time again.
Everyone loves a list.
Here's the first of a few.
This from a firm friend of Hissyfit, Canadian Tim Patrick:


Share your favorite Top 10 lists! 
So much that I've surely missed!

2016 has produced another very good harvest of new music. Must confess that I usually take some pride in discovering artists who are off the radar by myself. However, this year several of my final picks were found by other friends who managed to dig up the unearthed gems, and for their excellent tip-offs I'm greatly indebted. My list includes a couple of old favorites, but mostly artists new to me. Due to some complaints about my bad arithmetic in the past... I've decided to discipline myself, paring back my "Top 10 Album" list to exactly "10" - Sorry Deacon Blue, you were at 11! Here we go...


KARL BLAU - "Fallin' Rain" - (from 'Introducing Karl Blau') - "Fallin' Rain" is actually a cover of an old 1971 Link Wray tune, and what a masterful cover it is!!! Running almost 10 MINUTES long, it's a soulful, hypnotic ride someone like Richard Hawley would surely be proud of. I LOVE THIS SONG!!! Special thanks to Phil (from Tel Aviv) who tipped me off to this guy's music.

BLUE ROSE CODE - "Grateful" - (from the 'Grateful EP') - An unaffected gospel tune that never fails to touch the soul. For grumpy old cynics like myself this song should be required daily listening... 

JONES - "My Muffled Prayer" - Can't resist a carry-over from from last year's list. One of Trevor's finest. "Begin again... Begin again..."


TRASHCAN SINATRAS - 'Wild Pendulum' - Seems we had to endure an unbearably long wait before the Trashcan's latest offering. Well, the boys are certainly forgiven... 'Wild Pendulum' is magnificent... perhaps the band's best album. They dare to go beyond their comfort zone of melodic "jangle-pop" - diving head-first into previously unexplored sonic experimentation, courtesy of producer Mike Mogis. Majestic orchestral arrangements recalling Moody Blues or Spiritualized are initially a bit jarring, but at the heart of it all are the songs: elegant, textured and melodic. Add to that Frank Reader's impeccable vocals, wryly fatalistic lyrics, classy artwork/packaging - Album of the Year for me!!! 
Try: "Ain't That Something" "Best Days On Earth" "The Family Way" "All Night"

SILVER TORCHES - 'Heatherfield' - Thanks to Sir Rob Hurley for bringing this very obscure Seattle based folk/rock band to my attention. 'Heatherfield' has been rising higher on my chart with every listen. Only 8 songs &  31 minutes long - but absolutely NO filler. Band-leader Erik Walters voice is a dead-ringer for War On Drugs Adam Granduciel's, and there is no doubt the band have definitely been influenced by WOD, Ryan Adams & Mr. Springsteen. Right now "download-only". Really hope a CD will be released!!! Cheers Rob. You found a winner!
Try: "Cal" "Dearborn" "Old Friend" "I Was A King" " State Route 27"

BLUE ROSE CODE - 'And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing' - I think everyone here knows this album well enough that I need not gush on about how excellent Ross Wilson's latest collection of beautifully crafted, heartfelt tunes is. Pure delight!. Only quibble is the omission of the magnificent full length single "Grateful"...  
Try: "Pokesdown Waltz" "My Heart, The Sun" "Glasgow Rain" "In The Morning Part !/2/3"

BENJAMIN FRANCIS LEFTWICH - 'After The Rain' - I remember early "sampling" of a couple of cuts from this album, and them not "grabbing" me immediately. However, Meetwood Flac's persistent rave reviews prodded me to re-examine. And yes, he was correct... There is no question, 'After The Rain' is a very special album. A quiet "grower' that I nearly missed... I won't attempt a review here, as Mr. Flac has already waxed poetic with a superb in-depth dissection of this marvellous album at his Macwood Fleet blog-spot. Please check it out...
Try: "Mayflies" "Kicking Roses" "Some Other Arms" "Summer"

JIM MORAY - 'Upcetera' - Very late-entry thanks to Kathryn Marsh's recent posting of "Fair Margaret & Sweet William" - which knocked me over. Traditional storytelling folk-music - is not usually my cup of tea. But this is folk music that's been hauled into the 21st century and modernized by employing brilliant string/brass arrangements, some pedal-steel, and the warm, emotive voice of Moray himself. This one is quickly climbing the chart for me...
Try: "Fair Margaret & Sweet William" "Another Man's Wedding" "William Of Barbary" "Sounds Of Earth" "Lord Franklin"

ABC - 'The Lexicon Of Love - Part II' - When I first heard the rumour that Martin Fry was cooking up a "SEQUEL" to the 80's classic 'Lexicon Of Love' I cringed... A risky, potentially disastrous proposition which I surmised might tarnish the original LOL by association. Therefore, I approached the eventual release of 'LOL II' with a healthy dose of wariness. Needless to say Fry & Anne Dudley have managed the extraordinary feat of creating a worthy sequel loyal to the spirit & concept of the original, whilst avoiding outright imitation. Widescreen melodies, absolutely breathtaking orchestral arrangements by Dudley and Fry's definitive croon still in fine form. What can you say... ABC's best album in 34 years!!!
Try: "Confessions Of A Fool" "Kiss Me Goodbye" "Ten Below Zero" "Viva Love"

MODERN STUDIES - 'Swell To Great' - Glasgow/Yorkshire based band creating stately chamber folk/pop, inspired by the sounds made by an antique Victorian pedal harmonium. The result is a dreamy collection of melancholy songs with its heart in traditional rural folk, but delivered in a very contemporary style. There is an understated beauty and sense of discovery to each track that reward repeated listens. One of the few "buried treasures" that I managed to dig up myself this year. Truly lovely... Mainly digital download, but available on CD only from the band web-site.
Try: "Father Is A Craftsman" "Bottle Green" "Black Street" "Bold Fisherman"

BEAR'S DEN - 'Red Earth & Pouring Rain' - Evolving from the modern-folk revival movement of their debut 'Islands' and transforming into a band sounding a helluva lot like a British "War On Drugs" - steeped in the pop polish of 70's/80's rock, yet still retaining a modicum of the lilting folk of their debut. Early contender for my top album of the year. However, has faded a little as others ascended. Clocking in at over a full hour, and not a lot of sonic variation, maybe too much of a good thing. Still remains one of my favorites this year.
Try: "Emeralds" "Auld Wives" "Dew On The Vine" "Napoleon" "Gabriel"

NICK CAVE - 'Skeleton Tree' - Everyone knows the sad back-story to 'Skeleton Tree'... They say that adversity breeds creativity, and although Cave's's music has never been "easy listening", his song-writing has often utilized role-playing characters. This is personal. Never has Nick bared such raw emotion, and sounded so broken... Beautiful & harrowing... One cannot help but engage and empathize...
Try: "Distant Sky" "Skeleton Tree" "I Need You"  

RAY WILSON - 'Song For A Friend' - Our dear pal Meetwood Flac is wholly responsible for strong-arming me to give Ray Wilson a listen. Highly skeptical about a guy that subbed for Phil Collins as vocalist in Genesis for a short period in the 90's. Ummm, really? Karaoke prog-rock then? Fact is, this Mr Wilson is rather good... A talented sing-songwriter with a remarkable voice reminiscent of fellow-Scot Justin Currie of Del Amitri. 10 finely-crafted songs telling thought-provoking stories. Worth it for the moving title track alone, which tells the tragic story of a dear friend who became paralyzed in a diving accident & confined to a wheelchair- which he chose to drive off a harbour wall - and into the sea. Final track a Pink Floyd cover ("High Hopes") which Wilson carries off with aplomb! Cheers Nick!
Try: "Song For A Friend" "Not Long Till Springtime" 


We're in a grey area with 'Happy Blue' because of "official release" this year, but "early release" last year. Of course, my 'Best of 2015' already included the album near the top of my list, but I'd be remiss if I didn't at least do a quick cut/paste from last year, courtesy of our resident musical genius's fine album. What's the harm? 

JONES - 'Happy Blue' - Jones proves there's still fire in the belly of the old boy, as he continues his prolific streak of perfect pop music for thinking adults. I'd venture to say it's his most accessible and immediate album as a solo artist. A more traditional format, featuring a straight-up set of melodic tunes with a solitary spoken-word piece on the outro. A lot of classy "new sounds" contributed by talented guest -musicians, combined with Marcus Cliffe's always stellar production make for a very special listen. Excellent entry in the MM/Jones canon...
Try: "Ghost Of Song" "St Cecilia" "Battersea Boy" "My Muffled Prayer" 


"SING STREET". Since it's music-related, I can't let my 2016 list end without short mention of this little charmer! Guaranteed to please any 80's music lover...

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Trouble with Howe

The trouble with Howe?
Too many hats.
Too much talent with too many places to go. 
Too many choices.
Too many possibilities.
Too many destinations.
Too many sunsets to head off into.
The trouble is, if you never reach the destination how do you rate the journey?
Howe once told me that 'rehearsal is the enemy'. 
He probably shares a similar disdain for maps.
I see him standing, smirking, with a compass in one hand, a magnet in the other. Where most folks' talent limits them to a particular tack, I reckon that Gelb's wayward genius allows for any journey, preferably 'off piste', often without any sense of destination; his vagrant heart surely trusts in 'hazard' as habit.

“I was always good at making up songs. I can make up songs out of nothing, right now, if I wanted to, and just believe they've been here forever and then boom! There they are. The thing is to best represent the product by ‘reassimilating’ it in front of everyone. But it seemed like, instead, there were all these other possibilities and variables and things that happen. Like what if we played it this way tonight instead? Or, you know, when you get something recorded you get the frozen snapshot of a recording, but really that's only how it happened that one day. So when you're out there live, you go, ‘Okay, here's your compass.’ You can kind of see where you're coming from, but [you’re] not going to stay here. … so you allow [the song] to move again, to evolve and let it evolve in front of everybody because you can't explain music, you can't.”

You'll never put a post code on Howe's muse; he's all over the place; assembling and disassembling, wantonly, wilfully lost then found; impossible to pigeon-hole. I'm guessing that he's sick of his label as ‘Godfather of Alt-country’.
Seemingly so.
Howe Gelb celebrates his promised 'retirement' at 60 from his beloved Giant Sand by releasing a solo album. 'Future Standards' sees him reinvented as louche lounge lizard, swooning and crooning his idiosyncratic way though a set informed by The American Songbook.

“This is my attempt at writing a batch of tunes that could last through the ages with the relative structure of what has become known as ‘standards'. The likes of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael done up by Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday.”

Where Dylan reached back deferentially with 'Shadows in the Night', Howe leads archly with his chin, leaning forward into the Arizona sunlight with a knowing wink at the shadowy past. Howe rewrites the rules. Always. Tongue ever firmly in cheek, his self knowing disdain for form can be frustrating. He often sets up a beautiful melody only to leave it hijacked and hanging in the breeze. Here he seems to be curbing that mischievous habit, reigning himself for a more structured set. I've always admired that Howe wrote wilfully; to please himself. Perhaps he's satisfied that desire and is now keen to reach out by journeying back, with the Joanna as his vehicle of choice. 
Howe remembers his first experience with a piano: 

“There's something wrong with this eye [his left] from birth, so I couldn't read music right. My whole way of thinking was fucked up from the way I look at things. Literally. I could never get the black note in ‘Polly Wolly Doodle. And it just didn't sound like what I wanted. How do I get that radio sound? How do I sound like Abbey Road? Like ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’?”

He may be informed by The Beatles but here I hear his keening croak backed by Victor Borge, Chico Marx or even Les Dawson. You're always on the edge of your seat when Gelb's at the stool. Will he/won't he go where you expect him to? Sure, his hands are firmly on the wheel - 'The clouds are back at my command' - but where's he bound?
It's always been a bewildering yet bedazzling journey.
The trouble with Howe?
This man of many hats.
More shy than sly, this jongleur, in his element when lost in motion... has come home.
A Canute in the desert.
A Prospero with no spirits to command.
A wandering soul has found his 'loving heart' but what's now the object of this vagabond's affection? 
Perhaps his song is for Tucson itself.
Who is Howe now crooning to? 
You know that you'll never get a straight answer from this marvellous, mischievous maverick. 
"Maybe the lonely; maybe them only..."
We're never gonna to get to know.