Thursday, 28 February 2013

Albums for Life: 44: Jane Siberry: When I Was a Boy

Singer, songwriter, poet, trollop.

Thus does Jane Siberry introduce herself on her own website.
Followed by:

All animals, birds, fish, insects, reptiles and our other brothers and sisters live full, expanded lives in this universe. No cages, no pens, no messing with their diets, genes, hormones. No beaks are cut off. No young leaves its mother until the mother decides. Flocks of parrots fly from tree to tree, busy, living large. In return for us removing our arrogance from their flow, they are teaching us more and more. Allowing us to see their 'real' intelligence. Magic leans closer.

You know that you're dealing with a well intentioned bag of frogs.
I have seen her live a couple of times and she certainly puts the 'd' into 'ditsy'...
She also invests her songs with more heart and beauty than almost any other female song writer that I know. Her early albums were a mixed bag; wrapped in naff DX7 keyboard sounds, flanged guitars and clunky electronic drums; though the songs were often beautiful the spell was always broken.
The previous album to 'When I Was a Boy' was  'Bound by the Beauty', it was just great and had fabulous compositions such as 'The Valley', 'The Life is the Red Wagon' and 'Hockey'. However there was still something not quite there for me with the production. 'The Valley' is widely recognised by many as Siberry's finest song, and yet I still prefer fellow Canadian K.D. Lang's version.
She nailed it; Siberry didn't quite.

On 1993's 'When I Was a Boy' the stars alined for Jane. Production values became more ambient with Brian Eno and Michael Brook shaking their magic sticks to great effect. K. D. Lang makes a telling appearance on 'Calling All Angels', a song that has been used in a couple of soundtracks and to devastating effect in the brilliantly dark TV series Six Feet Under, where members of the cast sang the song at a wake. And death does seem to be a prevalent theme here, 'The Vigil' seems to be paean to a dying mother, 'The Gospel According to Darkness' and 'An Angel Stepped Down' all seem spiritually rooted. The beauty of 'Love is Everything' is almost overwhelming.
Here it is, taken from the album then followed by a stunning live version.
That's then followed by 'Calling All Angels' and the undeniably holy profundities of 'The Valley', as performed/owned by K. D.  Listen and you will surely walk in good company...

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Lionel Richtea... sorry, it tickled me...

                                                      "Hello, is it tea you're lookin' for?
                                                       Wanna take a look at my hobnob?"

Monday, 25 February 2013

Albums for Life: 45: Del Amitri: Waking Hours

There's not a lot to say about this other than it's a terrific collection of songs released in 1989; it's one of those easy listening 'jukebox' albums that is always better than you remember it to be.
It was the band's 2nd album, there's an unfussy approach that is oddly compelling; it's not lofty stuff but the tales all ring true.
This, for me, is perfect road rage retarding car stereo fodder...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Albums for Life: 46: Joan Armatrading

You've got somebody who loves you 
I want to see you fan the fire
Mistaken shyness can be costly 
Too hasty a goodbye and then you've lost me

This sultry slow burner was never off my turntable when it came out.
It is classic singer-songwriter material from 1976, a time when females were rare in that category.
Producer Glynn Johns wrapped some fine songs in a warm velvety ambience that made you want to hug the speakers.
Everything fits just fine.
In my early college days I remember this fondly (alongside Hall & Oates' 'Silver Album') as my 'shagging album'. 
And how could I fail with such an irresistible soundtrack?
Not a duff track, the sequencing and pacing is perfect, the playing is superb, including some sublime pedal steel from Miracle Mile mainstay BJ Cole.

Armatrading seems to wander the middle of the road these days but here she nailed it perfectly with this pitch perfect mood piece.
I can't find a link for my favourite track 'Somebody Who Loves You' but these 3 corkers should suffice.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Albums for Life: 47: Dogs in Traffic: Love & Money

This was more acoustic than their previous rockier, funkier albums, with James Grant's voice and sensitivities to the fore. I'm sure that you all know this inside out so I won't bang on. 
I'm realizing that 'gentle' bordering on the soporific is my thing; odd that I have trouble sleeping...
Boy, were these boys serious.
The album is a lovely thing though.
You can sing along in Spanish or marvel at Marilyn here...

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Albums for Life: 48: Hem: Rabbit Songs

'Lord, Blow the Moon Out, Please'

That one line tells you everything you need to know about Hem.
Winsome, with religious undertones and very polite...
I guess you'd call this mellow folk music.
I'd add pastoral, melancholic and very gentle, no one hits drums here, they brush them with delicate care.
Lost love and death seem to feature prominently but you can expect the odd jig too. There's no massive development from album to album but this debut holds a place in my heart because... well, it got there first and you can't put a liter in a half pint glass.

You can download their 2006 album Funnel Cloud (also excellent) for free here on NoiseTrade:
Meanwhile, here are 2 tracks from 'Rabbit Songs' 'Half Acre' & 'Idle', followed by a brief but compelling profile of the band.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

In Cassidy's Care: Download the Short Story (In Kindle Format Only)

The new Miracle Mile album 'In Cassidy's Care' is now mastered and ready for production once the artwork is complete. There's talk of needing a promo photo for the sleeve so Di is desperately searching out her pot of Vaseline for misting up the lens; she knows all of the tricks does Di.
The album's official release won't be for 3 or 4 months but we should have pre-release copies available for friends to buy (here and via the website) within 2 or 3 weeks. 
The songs were inspired by 'In Cassidy's Care' a short story that I wrote.
There are currently frustrating 'search' issues with Amazon but you can find the book in Kindle format using this link:
I wanted it to be free but there is a minimum fee required to set it up. Sorry!
If you do shell out to read the story please be sure to add a customer review, it really helps to create interest.
Meanwhile, here is the blurb that will preface the album; it sets up the story...

We’re all connected by our unravellings; a recognition that can be a comfort of sorts. A good friend (let's call him 'Cassidy') was having problems. His life was as disheveled as his appearance; he was coming apart at the seams. He needed to speak about this dishevelment but wasn't taking advice. My sympathetic gaze was met with the blank stare of a man marinating in misery. What to do? I thought about writing him a letter. No one writes letters these days so maybe that correspondence would resonate; he might take notice. So I wrote out his story, detailing things as objectively as possible, that he might better see his predicament and move beyond it. But oddly, as I kept writing, this letter to a friend became something else; a work of fiction. I had a title; 'In Cassidy's Care' and soon the thing had its own momentum. I used Cassidy's situation and personality for the narrative and found him a great point of reference; he never let me down. It was no surprise when I found myself writing songs that related directly to the predicaments of the Cassidy character. I presented Marcus with those small dramas and he developed the musical landscape in which our hero now abides. Small dramas indeed, his story is as mundane and relevant as yours and mine.
Beyond fiction, thanks to Cassidy for letting us hang the fabric of this fiction so loosely on his bones. He's still disheveled but you'd find him a much happier man these days; in fact, if you knew where to look, you wouldn't recognise him at all...

Monday, 18 February 2013

Albums for Life: 49: Duncan Sheik: Phantom Moon

I first heard Sheik through his hit "Barely Breathing" off his self-titled debut album. The earlier offerings were quite 'up' poppy fare. 
'Phantom Moon' is more melancholic. Here he slows things down; the songs feature lyrics written by New York playwright Steven Sater. 
There are pianos, strings and occasional, understated drums, the music Sheik puts around Sater's poetic stories is austere and quietly beautiful. There is occasionally a sense that Sater has tried a little bit too hard with poetry that doesn't always work as lyric, but I find myself listening to this often; the sound of the album is everything here.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Albums for Life: 50: Sigur Ros: Agaetis Byrjun

I remember this as being one of the first things that we listened to in the house in Corsica just after we brought it. Candlelight, local red, a ragu of wild boar, a haunch of which was gifted to us be the patron of our local bar, Bar de Golfe. We were dizzy, in love with the island and intoxicated with the possibilities of what our Corsican adventure might offer. I'd brought a few new CDs that we'd committed to listening in Corsica in the hope that they might specifically soundtrack our escapades; this was one of them. Neither of us were familiar with this band and Di giggled her way through the first couple of tracks, amused by the otherworldly falsetto of the singing, seemingly helium induced gibberish which we later found out to be labelled 'Hopelandic'. She soon fell silent as the icy beauty insinuated itself; appropriate as our first visit was during the feisty winter months.

The majesty of the music seemed perfect as we looked out at the grandeur of the massive snow capped Monte Grosse that dwarves the village.

All of Sigur Ros's subsequent albums are majestic, touched with genius, but this was our first vivid taste and remains an evocative reminder of those early days on the Isle de Beaute, a 'Hopeland' indeed...
Considering that we are about to sell up over there, this music is loaded heavy with precious nostalgia.

Friday, 15 February 2013

In Cassidy's Care

I'll keep this brief but wanted you to know that Marcus and I have finished the new Miracle Mile album 'In Cassidy's Care'.
It's the first MM release since 'Limbo' in 2007. We are mastering it on Monday with the lovely Peter Beckmann. Cuddly Barry Cross at Hot Cross Design is beavering away on the artwork, a draft of which you can see on the right. The songs are inspired by a short story that I wrote, based on real events then fictionalized as the tale became too tall. This written piece is also entitled 'In Cassidy's Care' and will soon be made available as a 'Kindle' download, which you'll be able to download from Amazon soon; it'll be pennies rather than pounds....
Meanwhile, I've just done an interview for 'Cloudberry' which you can read here.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Albums for Life: 51: Foxtrot: Genesis

Ok, here it is.
Back in 1973 his album captivated me.
The spots were kicking in, I was starting to walk around the dormitories with a permanent erection that I was unable, unwilling and too unwitting to point at anything other than my right hand.
What to do with all of the pent up passion?
Why, love music of course.
I jumped in, both feet.
It was unconditional and, as you've probably gathered, my quality control was all over the place.
This was a time of discovery and confusion.
I could only love what was put in front of me and this was dangled as Exhibit A 'the best album of all time' by some 6th form monitor who I was in awe (or fear) of. The cover was pretty captivating. And then I heard that voice. I still rate Peter Gabriel alongside Paul Buchanan as the great 'pop' voice of the last 30 years. That glorious rasp rattled on about otherworldly things; the whimsical stories told evoked what seemed like an Alice in Wonderland for 13 year old herberts; an earthy diversion from the whimsy of Lord of the Rings. He wasn't just singing about wizards and dragons; there were Estate Agents too; this was a weird parallel to real life, a retreat to a nursery rhyme riddled world of comic book characters that you could love and fear. And amidst all of the hokum... there were moments of real tenderness.

With the guards of Magog, swarming around,
The Pied Piper takes his children underground.
The Dragon's coming out of the sea,
with the shimmering silver head of wisdom looking at me.
He brings down the fire from the skies,
You can tell he's doing well, by the look in human eyes.
You'd better not compromise.
It won't be easy.

And it's hey babe, with your guardian eyes so blue,
Hey my baby, don't you know out love is true,
I've been so far from here,
Far from your loving arms,
Now I'm back again, and baby it's going to work out fine.

This was probably the first album that I did the 'put it on with the lights out' thing. Waiting for those moments of resolution amongst all of the discord was as exciting as hell; musically I could only count to 4 (still guilty) so the complexities of time signature rendered me lost, akimbo; awaiting those glorious moments of relief. When Gabriel did the "and it's hey babe with your guardian eyes so blue (uh?) hey my babe, don't you know our love is true" line at the end of 'Supper's Ready' I can still remember shaking like a shitting dog in ecstasy; my heart sang. 
You need to hear the album to get the controlled version; but here's a remarkable, out of control 1973 performance of the song; a cat suited Gabriel is impossibly thin and (if you go with it) it is pre digital, analogue, hard copy fanbloodytastic theatre.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Di's 'Albums for Life': 60 to 51

Di's been looking over my shoulder as I've been doing this list. 
She's desperate to play; bending over backwards even...
Here's her 60 to 51:

51. Twelve Stops & Home - The Feeling
52. All This Useless Beauty - Elvis Costello
53. The End of The Innocence - Don Henley
54. Burning The Daze - Marc Cohn
55. Ocean Drive - The Lighthouse Family
56. Raintown - Deacon Blue
57. Everybody's Laughing - Alex Lloyd
58. Algiers - Calexico 
59. Daniel Lanois - Acadie
60. Robert Palmer - Double Fun

Monday, 11 February 2013

Albums for Life: 52: Close to the Edge: Yes

'Now that it's all over and done, 
Run to the sea, right to the sun, 
Now that you find, now that you're whole...'


I need to offload this one fast; it's been praying on my mind awhile... timely as I must keep this choice and the next out of my Top 50 just in case the Style Police come a calling...
I can hear the giggles and am already anticipating the inevitable chinese burns and wedgies that this will prompt, but I have to be honest about my past imperfect as I sit here, rubbing at the damned spot of pre-adolescence. This album is a bit like that pair of turquoise cowboy boots that you keep at the back of the wardrobe for that moment when they surely must come back into fashion...

They say that, if at the age of 13 'Lord of the Rings' is not your favourite book then there's something wrong with you and that, if at the age of 30 it's still your favourite novel, well... then there's something wrong with you. 
This elicits a similar guilty reaction.
If you'd asked me for my favourite album between the age of 12 and 13 I would've had no hesitation; this and my number 51 choice were played to death in my dorm at boarding school. The tracks still smell of patchouli oil and spunky sheets to me.
This was the classic Anderson-Squire-Bruford-Howe-Wakeman line-up. 

I vividly remember weeping (dear reader) when the, frankly ridiculous, beer swilling caped crusader that is Rick Wakeman left to go solo.
Anyone remember his string of concept albums?
'The Six Wives of Henry VIII'?
'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' that was perfumed on ice?
There was always a 'concept' in those days...
Meanwhile, back in bonkersville; I haven't got a clue what Jon Anderson was wailing on about, but when he hits the "seasons will pass you by, I get up, I get dooooown' bit on the title track I still get a bit giddy.

This profound nonsense was forever mapped in my memory by the brilliant landscapes of the otherworldly Roger Dean album covers as much as by the exhilarating, magnificently meaningless music that came from within the gatefold.
Concepts and climaxes; what's not to love?

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Albums for Life: 53: Lambchop: Is a Woman

"You lay around the house, nothin' much to bark about. 
Jump onto the bed, just bones and squirrels inside your head"

After the grooves and lush orchestrations of the seminal 'Nixon', where Kurt Wagner played at being Curtis Mayfield, came this parred back version of the band. Gone were the bold dynamics, replaced with a reticent world of self doubt, soundtracked by nightclub piano and big fat jazz guitar. It's finely cut cloth is stylish, sombre and understated; more a mood piece than anything; the pace never gets above dawdling maudlin.
'Country' it ain't.

As ever Wagner's contemplations verge on the cryptic or impenetrable but the abstract nature of the lyrics makes the listener work harder and create their own meaning to the barking baritone timbre.
Here's the title track, then live footage (badly synched) of 'My Blue Wave' a love song to Kurt's dog, followed by 'The New Cob Web Summer'.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

'The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared' was one of my favourite books of 2012.
It's currently available to buy here in Kindle form at for a miserly 20p. A bargain.
Here's the Amazon blurb:

It all starts on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The Mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not… Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn something of Allan’s earlier life in which – remarkably – he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century. Already a huge bestseller across Europe, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is a fun and feel-good book for all ages.

'Imaginative, laugh-out-loud bestseller' The Telegraph
'Fast-moving and relentlessly sunny... Like Allan, the plot is pleasingly nimble and the book's endearing charm offers a happy alternative to the more familiar Nordic noir' The Guardian' 

'A mordantly funny and loopily freewheeling debut novel about ageing disgracefully' The Sunday Times

'We can't wait to finally escape into this feelgood tale' Stylist 

'Completely crazy, an incredibly funny story' Aftonbladet, Sweden

'First-rate' Der Spiegel, Germany 

'Completely crazy, an incredibly funny story' Germany 'Swedish black comic novel that reads like a road trip with Forrest Gump at the wheel', Netherlands --Reviews

'First-rate' --Der Spiegel, Germany

'Completely crazy, an incredibly funny story' Germany 'Swedish black comic novel that reads like a road trip with Forrest Gump at the wheel', Netherlands

Albums for Life: 54: Tom Baxter: Feather and Stone

Another mainstream choice but I like the music of Tom Baxter, 'easy listening' has never been easier. He may be forever damned for having 'Better' covered by Westlife; but he's more than that.
His debut 'Feather and Stone' is often played round at ours, Sunday mornings. If the first two tracks don't get you then, maybe you should stay in bed until Monday morning.
Di and I were in at the off with Baxter; saw the early gigs with a few other lucky folk. He's a powerful singer in the raw. He seems to keep dropping off the map, perhaps disillusioned by the lack of success that his music deserves. Maybe this fine album didn't sell because folk thought it was Jose Mourinho's debut; the resemblance is striking... it might also explain the confusion of the live band when he counts all the songs in with "4 4 2..."
I've posted links to the official videos of the two tracks below, then added a  live version of 'My Declaration' which is great. 
You can buy 'Feather and Stone' here for the price of a pint of German lager...
Baxter's working on a new album; details are here...

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Albums for Life: 55: The Cardigans: Long Gone Before Daylight

"These are the promises I can't keep"

After the perfect driving pop of 1998's 'Gran Turismo' came this warmer sounding collection.
Jam packed with lustrous laments, Nina Persson always had a way with an obtuse lyric and a winsome melody, but the shiny MTV sheen has been replaced with beautifully conceived instrumentation; the mellow arrangements and a more acoustic feel perfectly compliment the dark heartache that fuels the songs.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Albums for Life: 56: Magnet: On Your Side

Norwegian singer Even Johansen has produced some fine albums but, for me, this is his best.
Strummed acoustics and a classic pop sensibility matched with quirky 'second language' lyrics makes for a beguiling mix.
And there's a great duet of Dylan's 'Lay Lady Lay' with the lovely Gemma Hayes who Marcus has done 'a session' with and confirms as 'drop dead gorgeous'.
Her albums will not make this list but I really recommend them, especially 'Night on My Side'.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Albums for Life: 57: Kid Creosote and Jon Hopkins: Diamond Mine

This is a collaboration between Fife based songwriter Kenny ‘King Creosote’ Anderson and electronic sculptor Jon Hopkins who plays Eno to the King's wistful craftings, giving his tender small town ruminations a lovely ambience.

At the heart of these gentle songs is Anderson's affecting voice; the brogue does put some off, it just makes me want to put on my favourite fisherman's sweater and hug the speakers. 
There is an extended version of this album, 'The Jubilee Edition', which has some great tunes, but I love the original seven tracks as a piece; less is certainly more in this case.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Albums for Life: 58: Fleetwood Mac: Tango in the Night

"Strange how potent cheap music is"

Middle ground, I know, but I have to include this as it was the first CD that I ever owned.
Do you remember cassettes?
How they used to get jammed up and you had to wind them on with a pencil?
How they'd inevitably wrap themselves around the innards of any sound system?
25 years ago Di was doing a dancing job in Holland and came back with presents: a 'boogie box' CD player (then unavailable in Blighty) and one CD; 'Tango in the Night'. At the time I think that there were only about 8 choices, which included Dire Straights, Michael Jackson and some Madonna nonsense.
I reluctantly hit 'play' and was flabbergasted by the quality; digital sound was the death knell to my solvency; the start of my longstanding overdraft. Since that fateful day I've been unable to resist adding to the collection (and debt) weekly.

This album saw the transition of Fleetwood Mac from West Coast rock dudes to global pop stars.
The guitar based grooves of the stupendous 'Rumours' were replaced with ingeniously layered guitars, infectious synth hooks and melodies to die for. This showcased the genius of Lindsey Buckingham and was his final gift to the band before he went solo in the late 80s. Buckingham came on like Todd Rundgren's little brother with a 3 minute attention span; his writing, singing, playing and production skills were stage centre and he played a blinder before taking that early bath.
The album's success was responsible for giving the green light to much back combed big hair and/or baseball cap wearing middle aged men; the soundtrack within many a Porsche 911 I'm sure.
Here are the opening three tracks in order.
I believe it's what Noel Coward would have referred to as 'cheap music'...