Monday, 28 January 2013

Albums for Life: 59: Sun Kil Moon: Ghosts of the Great Highway

One of the good things about the ever prolific Mark Kozelek disbanding The Red House Painters is that I can get two albums out of him for my list; one from the afore mentioned (much later), another from this later reincarnation as Sun Kil Moon.
One minute gentle and almost too beautiful, the next ramping it up like Neil Young's guitar roadie on acid; this particular album favors Kozelek's gentler side. Throwing some beautiful strings at the already gorgeous melodies made for a heady mix and lifted things from the haunting yet often melancholic/morose nature that bedeviled a lot of the RHP's back catalogue; elevating things to a heavenly hum. The boy's always glum and disillusioned but he has such a wonderful way of sharing his misery.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Albums for Life: 60: Graham Parker: Heat Treatment

Much as I love the songs, sound and sensibilities of the later, more introspective 'Struck By Lightning', this album was my first exposure to Parker and his phenomenal backing band The Rumour; led by Brinsley Schwarz (see previous blog) who, in the late 70s were Britains' equivalent to The East Street Band. There's an energy and rawness to the performances that grabs you (very gently) by the throat. The sound of this album reminds me of the quicksilver mercury sound of Dylan's 'Highway 61 Revisited' with its reedy organ sound and spiky guitars. In order to survive those media defined post punk years the older 'musicians' effected a stroppy 'f*ck you' belligerence, chewed imaginary gum and wore the uniform of the day: skinny Oxfam suits, blue collars and age covering shades. Parker looked like a man who hated his day job and had the sharpest elbows in the pub; and he was at his most vitriolic here, pissing and moaning like Costello's grumpier older brother.
Here's two songs from the album performed live on BBC's 'Sight and Sound' followed by a couple of songs from the later (and highly recommended) 'Struck By Lightning'.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Albums for Life: 61: Nick Lowe: Jesus of Cool

After the break up of Brinsley Schwarz in 1975, within two years Nick Lowe had reestablished himself as an artist, songwriter, record producer and celebrated instigator of the 'New Wave'. With a debut album ready for release he was the 'it' boy. Sounds writer, Tim Lott, noted that he had become 'a bona fide Jesus Of Cool'! His manager Jake Riviera jumped on the line. Lowe remembers, 'We thought it was ludicrous but fantastic, an outrageous thing to say. It seems like nothing now, but at the time it fitted perfectly. The Americans wouldn't go with it, of course. They wanted a different title, thus 'Pure Pop For Now People'. Jake loved it – "Two album titles? Yes Please!" - it was right up his street."

The album was released on Rivera's new label Radar in March 1978, after his and Lowe's departure from Stiff Records. It was a Top 30 hit. This was vibrant music made by rejuvenated journeymen; who'd been previously rejected by the big labels as past it. With so many musical references this could have been an unfocussed pot pouri, but there was an urgency to the musical motifs that made the whole thing irresistible. Lowe trod the ground down for other musical magpies like Squeeze and 10cc. There are two songs of the new wave that I vividly remember giddily dancing around my parents lounge to, one was Costello's 'Red Shoes', the other was the infectious pop of 'So it Goes'. I've read Lowe described as 'a sceptic with a good heart' and that perfectly describes the joyful hook ridden nose thumbing nature of the album.
I love his newer stuff too, 'Basher' relaxing into old age by skillfully reconstructing the R'n'B that he obviously loves, but with 'Jesus of Cool' you hear the sound of a man breaking glass and sense a collective middle digit leveled in the direction of 'the suits'.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Albums for Life: 62: Paul Robeson: Songs of Free Men

“I gits weary and sick of tryin', I'm tired of livin' and feared of dyin”

This music always reminds me of my Dad, Terry. Terry loved to sing, still does. As an ex Kings College choir boy he knows the descant to every hymn going; as kids the family used to slide en masse away from him in the church pew during the hymns as he went stratospheric with his tremulous strangulated castrato. Only dogs could hear him; only strangled cats could envy. Around the house Dad always sang Paul Robeson; the songs on this album in particular. It's only when I left home that I could appreciate the beauty of that syrupy voice without Terry's duet. Spirituals, tradition folk songs, show tunes, protest songs in particular. Paul Robeson was a towering figure in American culture, an extraordinary athlete-scholar-actor-singer, Robeson also became one of the earliest equal rights campaigners, a forerunner of Martin Luther King Jr, demanding stronger laws against lynching and refusing to perform in any venue which segregated the audience, sometimes putting his personal safety at risk in order to speak or perform. And though he was admired by many, his controversial support of the Soviet Union during the Cold War and the era of McCarthyism led to ostracism and his declining health. No surprise that a man who had to struggle so hard to be accepted in his own country would use his fame to take a political stance. And no more surprising, perhaps, that that stance would eventually all but destroy him. He was less than perfect; his serial adultery, his detached relationship with his son during his early life, his continued support for the USSR even when some of its excesses were becoming known. But here was a man who had to survive and wanted to thrive, in difficult times. He did this with honor, no little dignity (especially at a time when he was labelled "an uppity nigger") and although he lived an imperfect life (who doesn't?) his fragility all adds to his reputation as a great humanist. The McArthy witch hunt did for him in the 50s, effectively silencing his Stateside but he still found an audience elsewhere and was particularly popular in Russia and Wales where he was greeted in The Valleys as one of their own. Ultimately Robeson was a man of courage and political integrity, who, by the bye, could sing up a storm.  
His gravestone bears the inscription:
The artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery.
I have made my choice.
I have no alternative.

His was a rich, deep bass-baritone voice, unlike any other.
At the heart of this album are political songs from Russia, Spain, Germany and America.
I've posted five of his most famous songs starting with Terry's favourite 'Mah Lindy Lou' and ending with a performance by Richard Hawley of Robeson's favourite song, 'Waterboy'.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Albums for Life: 63: Glen Campbell: Reunion (The Songs of Jimmy Webb)

And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time

Glen Campbell started his career as a member of The Wrecking Crew; the brilliant, famously anonymous backing band that played on many of the greatest hits Stateside in the 60s, including The Monkees, Beach Boys, The Righteous Brothers etc.
After touring as a member of The Beach Boys (playing bass when Brian went awol) Campbell committed to a solo career. His musical versatility and sweet voice eventually earned him an American TV series even before the huge hits kicked in. He was regarded as bit of a Golden Boy; he ticked all of the boxes; he was wholesome, handsome and... he was a Republican. Bingo! Grannies and virgins swooned. With the weight of Ronald Reagan and John Wayne behind him he was glory bound. Although he had early success in 1967 with  John Hartford's 'Gentle on My Mind' he still took a while to find his true voice, eventually hitting gold dust with a partnership with then budding genius (21) Jimmy Webb. Their first big hit was 'By the Time I Get to Pheonix' which won them a Grammy. Campbell demanded that Webb write him more "of them songs about places" and he dutifully obliged with two corkers; 'Witchita Lineman' and 'Galveston'. 'Where's the Playground, Susie' followed soon after.
'Reunion' was released in 1974 and was later remastered with the addition of 'Wichita Lineman' and 'Pheonix', which is the stellar version that I've got.
Campbell is so easy going that it's easy to overlook his power as a singer. Ask me in a lazy moment what my least favourite (s)hit records are and I'd juggle 'Rhinestone Cowboy' with 'Lady in Red'. I listened to the former recently (his biggest hit) and was gobsmacked; it is one of THE great pop vocals; check out his voice in the verses...
He had me with those early hits, particularly 'Wichita Lineman' which may well be one of my favourite ever sounding songs; from Carol Kaye's flat wound string bass intro through to the morse code strings that haunt the fade; this is an iconic recording. It contains one of the great lyrics too in "and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time'... I think that encapsulates his early appeal; he was a wholesome, hopeful outsider with a dream; wide eyes on the horizon but forever homeward bound. Whenever I see Jon Voigt in 'Midnight Cowboy' it always reminds me of early Glen Campbell. That and the theme tune which could easily be mistaken for one of his own. Having cringed at GC's wretched writhings in 'True Grit' I know who I'd rather see singing...

He later fell into cocaine and alcohol addiction before marrying Kim Woolen who reintroduced him to God and sobriety. Recently diagnosed with Altzheimer's Disease, he made an excellent farewell album 'Ghost on the Canvas' and toured it in an emotional farewell.
He's best remembered with those early Webb hits though.
Brilliant songs, brilliantly recorded with a brilliant backing band the, erm, brilliant, Wrecking Crew.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Albums for Life: 64: Arvo Part: Alina

This is contemporary music, neoclassical apparently, revered for its 'simple complexity'. This version of the work was recorded in 1995 with Vladimir Spivakov (violin), Sergev Bezrodny (piano), Alexander Malter (piano), Dietmar Schwalke (cello).
Part writes about his music being 'white' so that the listener can bring his own 'colours' to it. Cyclical in design, it is spellbinding in its sparsity; aficionados rattle on about 'the space between the notes' and for once I can understand what that means. The sublime nature of this wondrous work suggests a spiritual life, well tended; you really  need to hear it to understand its effect.
Beautifully simple.
Simply beautiful.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Albums for Life: 65: David Bridie: Act of Free Choice

David Bridie is a mate and my inverted bias (uh?) is probably working against him here; this should surely be a lot higher; I've played it to death.
We met over ten years ago, drawn together, I think, by press comparisons of our writing and voices. This was a compliment for me as David is a fine composer and singer. He started his career with Melbourne band Waving Not Drowning and then went on to form My Friend the Chocolate Cake. Their organic, acoustic approach won them many fans worldwide and they have produced a string of fine albums. Think Penguin Cafe Orchestra with a gentle voice and lyrical smarts. A good summation of their early career can be found on the compilation 'Review' which you can buy here. They are still going strong and released their last album 'Fiasco' in 2011.
Meanwhile, back in 2000, David was in London and he invited me down to The Dairy Studios in Brixton where he was recording his first solo album with co-producer Ian Caple (Tricky/Tindersticks). I got to see the album developing at first hand. It showcased Bridie's penchant for simple, addictive melody, but highlighted his experimental spirit with a deliberate move away from acoustic and orchestral instrumentation in favor of electronic soundscapes. There's an adventurous ambience here akin to David Sylvian's more accessible work; the album is dark and contemporary but rooted in the outback, a spiritual wilderness that informs songs such as "The Koran, the Ghan and a Yarn" and "Kerosene." There's a whiff of Massive Attack in the artful beats, but at the heart of it all is Bridie's big heart. The whole thing has an effortless accessibility. Not many could make a tank top look so stylish...

This is a lovely, addictive album, full of melody and moody melancholy. Perfect wallpaper; even better studied close up in the headphones; it begs to be listened to as a whole. Di's signed copy says "lose yourself in this". Typical David; a craftsman who knows his target. He's still around, stirring up the political hotpot down under, composing film music, producing albums for himself, MFTCC and 'World Artists' like Papua New Guinea's George Telek. Check out 'Serious Tam' here. 
If you haven't heard this album, do yourself a favour; get it here for 0.01p, worth every penny...

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

First Known Photograph of 'The Finger'

Group picture, Boston Beaneaters and New York Giants, Major League Baseball Opening Day 1886. Check out wag, Charles Radbourn giving the finger to the cameraman (back row, far left).
This and other glimpses of the past can be found at the excellent 'Retronaut' site here.

Albums for Life: 66: Whiskeytown: Pnuemonia

This was Whiskeytown's final album before Ryan Adams left for solo stardom.
Apparently the album was in the can 3 years before release and was dismissed at the time of release as the death rattle of a knackered combo. Nonsense as it contains some of Adams' finest songs and performances; it's got beauteous ballads but also some great hooks with his pop sensibilities turned up to '11'.
It should also be noted that Catlin Cary emerged as a fine solo artist after the band split in 1999.
The 'Ryan: Treasure or Tosspot?' debate can be revisited by watching the boy's appearance on Letterman in the last clip.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Albums for Life: 67: Damien Rice: 0

This album still resonates; grim but glorious, never has misery sounded so lovely.
Rice made a smart move by involving the beautiful tones of Lisa Hannigan as a foil for his heartbreak; the object of his affectation. He was brilliant live too as these clips show.
The album was made in memory of a friend who had just died and was recorded independently to retain artistic control.
The follow up '9' was just too much misery, even for me.
The songs from '0' still pack a punch...

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Albums for Life: 68: Halloween Alaska

I must admit to knowing nothing about this band other than that I love this self titled release.
As with TT's Stars shout, I think that I was initially drawn by the Prefab comparisons, singer James Dier does have a plaintive Paddyesque way with a melody.
Check out 'Four Corners'.
I can't find a clip, but there's a moment towards the end of the song where Dier keeps going for the line "I found the one to keep" which is just lovely; it's almost as he's trying to find the most beautiful way of singing the curiously captivating line and, boy, does he nail it.
I confess that I play this a lot as background; very calming...

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Albums for Life: 69: Scott Merritt: Violet and Black

This was a massive influence when Steve Davis (then co-producer and guitarist) and I were recording the Miracle Mile debut 'Bicycle Thieves'. An impassioned voice singing mundanities might just be a gravestone that we'll share. It's intense jangle hasn't aged badly.
Merritt released the album in 1989 then disappeared, frustrated with the industry, tied in to a contract with an ailing label (I.R.S) he briefly returned in 2002 with 'The Detour Home' but retreated again to Brantford Ontario, his Canadian home where he has his own studio and produces local bands.
I'm nearly back on schedule with these so hope to expand a bit more on future missives.
Brace yourselves...

Friday, 11 January 2013

Albums for Life: 70: 10CC: Sheet Music

Ooh ... you know the heart of conversation must be dying
Ooh....when a romance depends on cliches and toupees and threepees

This was irresistible to me upon its release.
I well remember getting caught by a monitor throwing shapes in my dorm' mirror to the solo in 'Silly Love'. Much ridicule that I still haven't quite recovered from. There was no embarrassment in my professing a love for this at the time though; if you liked Wings you loved 10cc.
Smart, cynical and great tunes.
There was even a twist of sadness ('Old Wild Men' & 'Somewhere in Hollywood') that kept me interested.
My favourite 10cc song is 'I'm Mandy Fly Me' from a later album but 'Old Wild Men' runs it pretty close. It's also the favourite album of Kevin Godley and Graham Gouldman: "Our best album, epitomising what 10cc was all about. Unique songwriting and production."
There is a recent box set release that you can read about here.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Albums for Life: 71: Peter Broderick: How They Are

This is delicate and elegant writing.
Apparently recorded in downtime between his solo projects and work with Efterklang.
I say perfectly refined and realized.
Broderick's other recordings are fleshier; this one just comes and goes; leaving a resoundingly pallid echo; a lovely vapor trail of quiet brilliance.
Here's the opening track as it was recorded; spectacularly slight, totally captivating...

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Albums For Life: 72: Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden: Beyond The Missouri Sky

I'm a big fan of both of these musicians.
This album brought them together and comprises some choice covers mixed with a few originals.
It's a beautifully conceived thing; subtle and understated; no flash soloing, just the delicate touch of knowing artists.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Tracks of My Year

I've been making my usual Best of the Year 'swapsies' CD for those interested in reciprocating.
If you want to play, please send a CD of your favourite tracks to:
18 The Green
Wooburn Green

Here's what you'll receive in return:
1. Shaker Hymns - Dry the River
2. Mid Air - PB
3. Emmylou - First Aid Kit
4. Out of the Blue - Giant Sand
5. Something More Beautiful - Beth Orton
6. The Wall - Sean Rowe
7. Idlewild - Gretchen Peters
8. Going Home - Leonard Cohen
9. Here I Am in London Town - Deacon Blue
10. Hush - Calexico
11. Only God Can Save Us Now - Over the Rhine
12. Sedna - Efterklang
13. All My Love - Mark Eitzel
14. Old Fools - Admiral Fallow
15. We're All Leaving - Karine Polwart
16. The Sky's the Limit - Nik Kershaw
17. Avalanches - A Fine Frenzy
18. Never Ending Happening - Bill Fay
19. Blood is Big Expense - Sweet Billy Pilgrim
20. Regret - The Blue Nile

Monday, 7 January 2013

2013: The Best is Yet to Come?

Sorry that I haven't been around for a few days; I've been in the studio with Marcus. As you can see, it's been a knackering few days that has put years on us both. A diet of curry/fish and chips/kebabs/red wine didn't help.
We also had no kitchen or running water; most bands split over 'musical differences'; Marcus and I nearly buckled because I kept throwing coffee grounds and tea dregs down a sink that had not been connected. I wondered why my toes were permanently soggy whilst Marcus wondered at my parents marital status at my birth... I also broke his favourite mug...
Domestic catastrophes aside; the good news is that, apart from the inevitable fretting over the small stuff, I think that we've finished 'In Cassidy's Care'.
Is it any good?
Too be honest, I'm so close to it that I cannot hear it a the moment; all I'm hearing is high hat patterns, cymbals and vocal edits...
It'll take a while before the judgmental myopia clears.
At that point I'll decree it awful and demand a re-record; then I'll be calmed by the balmy Cliffe and realize that all is well.
Meanwhile, I need to catch up on my Albums for Life list and also attend to writing some stuff to describe the sessions and detailing the production of the forthcoming album for those interested.
In the meantime... I've given no thought to resolutions for 2013 so I'm doing it this second...
Mmm; I now that I should drink less booze/coffee
I should watch less TV
I should read more
I should learn how to use my mobile or sling it
I really should stop saying 'cool'
I should be less protective over my paint job (a long story)
I should visit my parents more
I should write my brother and sister more
I should wear those shoes and clothes that I'm saving for funerals
Etc, etc, etc...
Funny, as I'm writing this, Terry, my Dad, just emailed me this.
The usual stuff but a timely reminder that the platitudes survive because they are ultimately good wisdom...
Terry (that's not him pictured) writes:

Written by a 90 year old
This is something we should all read at
least once a week!!! 

Make sure you read to the end!!!
Written by Regina Brett (below), 90 years old, of the Plain Dealer, Cleveland , Ohio.

To celebrate growing older, I once wrote
the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most
requested column I've ever written.

My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so
here is the column once more:

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short – enjoy it.

4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will.

5.Don't buy stuff you don't need.

6. You don't have to win every argument. Stay true to yourself.

7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.

8. It's OK to get angry with yourself. You can take it.

9. Save for things that matter.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.

12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye.

16.. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful. Clutter weighs you down in many ways.

18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.

19. It's never too late to be happy. But it’s all up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Over prepare, then go with the flow..

23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words 'In five years, will this matter?'

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive but don’t forget.

29.. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. People love you because of who you are, not because of anything you did or didn't do..

35. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood.

38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.

41. Envy is a waste of time. Accept what you already have not what you need.

42. The best is yet to come ...

43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

44. Yield.

45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Albums of 2012

Back in the studio working on the new Miracle Mile album 'In Cassidy's Care', more of which later. Meanwhile, here's my tardy 'Best of 2012' list; might justify them later:

Tree Bursts in Snow by Admiral Fallow

Traces by Karine Polwart

                                                               Life is People by Bill Fay

Crown and Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim

                                                    Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters

                                                The Salesman and the Shark by Sean Rowe

                                                      The Lion's Roar by First Aid Kit

                                                            Piramida by Efterklang

                                                        Shallow Bed by Dry the River

                                                         Mid Air by Paul Buchanan

Reissues of the Year:
Tell My Sister by Kate and Anna McGarrigle
Walk Across the Rooftops & Hats by The Blue Nile
So by Peter Gabriel

Disappointment of the Year:
The Devil You Know by Rickie Lee Jones
Babel Mumford and Sons

Books of the Year:
Ron Rash The Cove
Richard Ford Canada
Jonas Jonasson The Hundred Year Old Man...
Charles Frazier Nightwoods
Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers

Films of the Year:
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (USA)
Take Shelter
Midnight in Paris
Plus two films I haven't yet seen but kind of know will be on the list:
The Master

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Albums for Life: 74 & 73: The Beatles: The Red and Blue Albums

Just about coming to after the Xmas indulgences.
I've fallen behind and will remedy that with some skulduggery; this will also dispose of the elephant in the room.
I know that we're under strict orders not to include compilations but these two albums are so ingrained in my musical DNA that they cannot be ignored.
My parents had all of the 45s but only these two Beatles albums so I was nourished on what must be the finest compilation of pop music by any one band.
Beatles or The Stones?
No contest for me; no other group has reshaped modern pop so dynamically and over such a short period of time. If I could remove Yellow Submarine I could not imagine a song book more perfect...
My fav Fab Four album changes every hour (today it's Abbey Road) so this ridiculously low placement of such musical genius helps me to move on beyond the furrowed brow...
You don't need me to talk you through the highs; although today I've been admiring Lennon's lovingly languid bass playing on 'The Long and Winding Road', which many a barbed bard will tell you was his attempt at Macca sabotage...