Sunday, 31 March 2013

Albums for Life: Joint 28: The Paul Simon Songbook/Randy Newman

Another cop out I'm afraid.
I tried really hard but couldn't chose from the later work of either of these songwriting giants, so I went back to the source.
Both albums are relatively unadorned; Simon's wide eyed poetry was unbridled from the quirky world rhythms and smooth jazz that would inform future recordings, whilst Newman's debut is relatively free of the sardonic, self referential Americana and biography, sans the wonderfully florid Southern orchestrations that would color many of his world weary rants and eventually lead him away from the challenge of the charts, towards a career in soundtracks and social commentary.
Both are captured in the raw with their instrument of choice, respectively acoustic guitar and grand piano; with their artistic characters fully developed: there's no sense of 'work in progress' with either recording; both artists were born seemingly fully formed: Simon all wide eyed poetry, Newman all caustic cynicism, both with an ear for melody and an eye for a heart stopping turn of phrase.
Of their later stuff I love Simon's 'Here Comes Rhyming Simon' which contains the sublime 'American Tune', and I couldn't choose between Randy's 'Sail Away' and 'Little Criminals' so, yup, a cop out, but intimate pleasures both. 

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Albums for Life: 29: Grant McLennan: Horsebreaker Star

Um... well, it's a record made, recorded in Athens Georgia, it's 24 songs, it's the biggest and boldest and warmest and lovingest thing I've done I think... I like it as much as 16 Lovers Lane and Before Hollywood... so that's kind of where I see it, and um, it's just a bunch of songs about footsteps and change and kind of, dirt roads, you know, underneath a sky full of stars. It's called Horsebreaker Star. Yeah, it's just a constellation that I invented. Basically I imagined my own bunch of stars and, I don't know, it just came to me as Horse Breaker Star. And so I hope that all the people were going down that road as well, it would be great. It's a peaceful place, it's a good place.

Some albums just wrap themselves around you.
'Horsebreaker Star' was Grant's open invitation to his world:

"I wanted it to be the kind of record that could be played by anyone, but not too obvious. You know, the London Symphony Orchestra doesn't have to do the ballads, Johnny Cash doesn't have to do the country songs. I don't like to be that predictable. I like surprises."

And what generosity! A double album that doesn't outstay its welcome; not once do I reach for the 'skip' button. For me, alongside 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' it's the best double album ever. Easy listening for sure, it's a gentle persuasion, and not the most challenging of music but, like that misshapen pullover that you reach for instead of the Prada, it's a perfect fit. It's impossible not to be taken by such easy charms; not so much a comfort blanket; more a rich tapestry that, upon closer inspection reveals itself as plain cloth and corduroy. But perfectly quilted and crafted. The humble perfections are heightened of course by the knowledge that the gentle heart no longer beats, but what riches were left behind.

I can't believe that, at the time of posting this, the only version of 'Open Invitation' on YouTube had but 18 hits. I've followed it by 'Simone and Perry' which, alongside maybe only Tom Waits' 'Kentucky Avenue' is guaranteed to have me blubbing by the end... 
'Chicken Skin' at 2.55. 
After the final clip I've posted something that I wrote in 'The Limbo Diaries, back in 2006.
I hate to quote myself (moi?) but it does seem relevant.
Come see the paradise indeed...


TJ: Chills... 'Simone and Perry' from 'Horsebreaker Star' was playing on the ipod 'select' as I heard the news this morning of Grant McLennan's passing. 
I've got a few skeletons in my musical attic, albums that haven't survived or aged well, but I'll pat myself on the back over The Go Betweens. I got there fairly early with 'Liberty Belle', fell for 'The Wrong Road' and, later, the mysteries of 'Cattle and Cane' and was forever smitten. The songs seem just as 'right' now as the did then; they breathe their very own exotic air, yet maintain a whiff of the mundane; something special to fuel anyone’s day. The sensibilities aren't male, or ‘cock ‘n’roll’, girl friends connected as much as I did. I loved the vulnerability of the poetry, and that, particularly with Grant, the songs seemed inclusive, "an open invitation" to his world, the songs going exactly where I hoped they would, (with a few twists along the way) me grinning like a loon as they did. There'd always be that 'favorite Beatle' discussion, Robert and Grant's bittersweet combination is beyond that, but I do love those solo albums; there are times when a cup of sweet milky tea is 'just right'.  
'Oceans Apart' was a welcome return, hearing 'The Statue' was like bumping into a best mate years down the line. Of course he'll be missed, but there's a big heart to be heard in his words and music. 
God bless him... I'm off to the attic to review my collection.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Duncan Disorderly?

You can always tell from people's lists whether you'd get on or not.
We're either kindred spirits or judgmental twats.
All of us who care about music are surely rendered precious snobs by the mysteries of its enchantment.
One man's Miles is another man's piles so to speak... 
Anyone who has Kate and Anna McGarrigle sandwiched between John Martyn and Jackie Leven only has to knock once. But, 'Rhythm of the Saints' as your Paul Simon?  And, I mean, 'Rattlesnakes' at 93?
And who is Yabby You when he's at home? Ah, 'Dub'...
This eclectic selection from my mate Jim's brother Duncan suggests we'd hit it off immediately but that the evening would eventually end badly after one too many glasses of Pinot Noir, with Dunc whispering 'feckin' philistine' and me telling Dunc to shove his stylus up his arse just before setting fire to his black polo neck jumper... but then he'd reach for 'Horsebreaker Star', we'd embrace, turn the lights down and snuggle up for a listen...
It's a thin thin line between love and mates...
I'm thinking that Duncan thinks he looks like this:

I'm thinking it's probably a bit more like this:

Duncan writes:
The Afterword website, to which I contribute, asked all its bloggers to submit a list of their 100 favourite albums of all time, in order. Now, how could I resist a challenge as pointless, time-consuming and nerdy as that?

Rules: only one album per artist.
No classical music (that will have to be another list).
No compilations.
Live albums are allowed.
I tried to consider all albums afresh: how much do I actually love them now?
I really did try to keep it down to 100, but there were 25 more outstanding classics that just insisted on tagging along at the end.

1. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
2. Keith Jarrett – Live at the Blue Note: Complete
3. Elvis Costello & the Attractions – Imperial Bedroom
4. Congos – Heart of the Congos
5. Ketil Bjørnstad – The Rainbow Sessions
6. Stephen Stills – Manassas
7. Baaba Maal & Mansour Seck – Djam Leelii
8. The Beatles – Revolver
9. Tom Waits – Rain Dogs
10. The Kinks – Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire
11. Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
12. Joni Mitchell – Hejira
13. George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
14. Charles Mingus – The Great Concert of …
15. Yabby You – Jesus Dread
16. David Ackles – American Gothic
17. Nic Jones – Penguin Eggs
18. Nick Drake – Bryter Layter
19. Van Morrison – Veedon Fleece
20. Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
21. The Clash – Sandinista!
22. Misty in Roots – Live at the Counter Eurovision
23. Townes van Zandt – Live at the Old Quarter
24. Miles Davis – The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions
25. Marvin Gaye – Here, My Dear
26. Culture – Two Sevens Clash
27. Penguin Café Orchestra – Concert Program
28. Can – Future Days
29. Grateful Dead – Steppin’ Out: England ‘72
30. Vassilis Tsabropoulos & Anja Lechner – Chants, Hymns and Dances
31. Stevie Wonder – Innervisions
32. The Band – The Band
33. Tim Buckley – Dream Letter: Live In London
34. Knut Rössler & Johannes Vogt – Octagon: Between the Times
35. Joanna Newsom – Ys
36. Elliott Smith – XO
37. Lal Waterson & Oliver Knight – Once in a Blue Moon
38. Only Ones – Even Serpents Shine
39. Talking Heads – The Name of this Band is …
40. Holger Czukay – Movies
41. Jackie Leven – Fairy Tales for Hard Men
42. Kate and Anna McGarrigle – Kate and Anna McGarrigle
43. John Martyn – One World
44. Richard Skelton – Landings
45. Harold Budd – Avalon Sutra/As Long As I Can Hold My Breath
46. Karen Dalton – It’s So Hard to Tell Who’s Going to Love You the Best
47. Bill Evans – Waltz for Debby
48. David Bowie – Low
49. Leonard Cohen – Recent Songs
50. Judee Sill – Judee Sill
51. Orchestra Baobab – Pirates’ Choice
52. Matthew Halsall – Fletcher Moss Park
53. The Durutti Column – LC
54. Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
55. Todd Rundgren – Something/Anything
56. Bob Mould – Workbook
57. The Stars of the Lid – …And Their Refinement of the Decline
58. XTC – Apple Venus Vol. 1
59. Anouar Brahem – Le Voyage de Sahar
60. REM – Automatic for the People
61. Toumani Diabate & Ballaké Sissoko – New Ancient Strings
62. Spirit – The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus
63. Lee Perry – Open the Gate
64. The Triffids – Born Sandy Devotional
65. Eleni Karaindrou – Elegy of the Uprooting
66. Gillian Welch – Time (the Revelator)
67. Brian Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain
68. The Oyster Band – Step Outside
69. Lloyd McNeill Quartet – Asha
70. Billy Bragg – Workers’ Playtime
71. Djelimady Tounkara – Sigui
72. Terry Reid – Seed of Memory
73. Bob Marley & the Wailers – Live at the Roxy
74. Love – Forever Changes
75. Jackson Browne – Late for the Sky
76. Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel 1
77. Bert Jansch – Avocet
78. Eric Dolphy – Far Cry
79. Pete Atkin – Driving Through Mythical America
80. Dave Evans – The Words in Between
81. Albert Ayler – Stockholm, Berlin 1966
82. Linton Kwesi Johnson – Forces of Victory
83. Paul Simon – The Rhythm of the Saints
84. Jon Thorne & Danny Thompson – Watching the Well
85. Ron Sexsmith – Whereabouts
86. Joe Gibbs & Errol Thompson – African Dub All-Mighty, Chapter 3
87. The Unthanks – Here’s the Tender Coming
88. Fairport Convention – Liege and Lief
89. Andreas Utnem & Trygve Seim – Purcor
90. Alan Hull – Pipedream
91. Joe Strummer – Walker (OST)
92. Michael Smith – Mi C’yaan Believe It
93. Lloyd Cole & the Commotions – Rattlesnakes
94. Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy – Live at Dreher
95. E.S.T. – Live in Hamburg
96. Ayub Ogada – En Mana Kuoyo
97. Tord Gustavsen Trio – The Ground
98. Randy Newman – Land of Dreams
99. John Surman & Howard Moody – Rain on the Window
100. Mary Lou Williams Trio – Free Spirits

... and here are the unlucky ones that just lost out - 25 more little gems that I recommend unreservedly:

101. Gonzalez – Solo Piano
102. The Undertones – The Positive Touch
103. Ben Folds – Songs for Silverman
104. Teenage Fanclub – Songs from Northern Britain
105. John Stewart – California Bloodlines
106. Horace Tapscott – The Dark Tree, Vols 1 & 2
107. John Prine – John Prine
108. Grant McLennan – Horsebreaker Star
109. Graham Parker and the Rumour – Squeezing Out Sparks
110. Ali Farka Touré – Talking Timbuktu
111. Loudon Wainwright III – High, Wide & Handsome
112. Joe Higgs – Life of Contradiction
113. Sara Isaksson & Rebecka Törnqvist – Fire in the Hole
114. Mike Oldfield – Hergest Ridge
115. Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans
116. Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze – Amanké Dionti
117. Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Ghèbrou – Piano Solo
118. Miracle Legion – Me and Mr Ray
119. Rico – Roots to the Bone
120. The Bee Gees – Odessa
121. Marcin Wasilewski Trio – Faithful
122. Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts – Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts
123. Virginia Astley – From Gardens Where we Feel Secure
124. Waterson Carthy – Waterson Carthy
125. Jim Ford – Sounds of Our Time 

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Fish Up the Yangsze

This has nowt to do with music etc but had me blowing porridge through my nose this morning...
At least it's 'humane'...
I was quietly hoping the guy on the right would get one in the head.
Is that wrong?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Albums for Life: 30: Neil Young: After the Goldrush

Sailing heart-ships through broken harbors
Out on the waves in the night
Still the searcher must ride the dark horse racing alone in his fright
Tell me why 

Plenty of bitter and sweet here.
It was the sweet balladry of 'After the Goldrush' that captured me way back in 1970 and is probably the album that introduced me to the idea of the 'singer/songwriter'.

The songs were written as an intended soundtrack to a script for a film 'After the Goldrush' written by Dean Stockwell. A"sort of an end-of-the-world movie", the film never saw the light of day but the recordings continued. Young's regular band Crazy Horse were augmented by Jack Nitzsche and 18 year old prodigy Nils Lofgren who was brought in primarily to play piano, a first for him.

The follow up 'Harvest' is probably an easier listen but there's a flow to this album that is truly intoxicating; 35 minutes of sheer bliss. There's a fragility to Young's voice that is almost other worldly.
The songs are impossibly beautiful; I knew on my first listen that this album would be with me forever.

Di's Albums for Life: 40 - 31

Here are the songs that make Di's latest list.
As she teas 'em up I'm sure you'll agree that she's no mug...

31. Underneath The Stars - Kate Rusby

32. Human Condition - Richard Ashcroft

33. In the Reins - Calexico & Iron & Wine

34. Plays Morricone - Yo Yo Ma

35. Woodface - Crowded House

36. God Bless The Pretty Things - Boo Hewerdine

37. Mine & Yours - David Mead

38. Our Endless Numbered Days - Iron & Wine

39. The Animal Years - Josh Ritter

40. Act of Free Choice - David Bridie

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Albums for Life: 31: Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid

Now I know what every step is for
To lead me to your door...
Dawn gives me a shadow I know to be taller. 
All down to you
Everything has changed

I was chatting with Toronto Tim off the back of my last choice; attempting to justify my lowly position for the twat in the hat that once was Van Morrison. I think that it's because 'Astral Weeks' and 'Veedon Fleece' were recommended to me by others rather than me discovering them myself. I sense that maybe that's the essence of these lists; the more personal the discovery the closer we hold things, they become like an intimate member of our musical family.
If I were a mawkish man I'd carry this lot's photo in my wallet.
I first heard Elbow on a Radio One session way back before the release of 'Asleep at the Back'.
I vividly remember a chicken skin moment as Guy Garvey hit the hook of 'Powder Bluuuue'. It was a little bit Gabriel, a little bit Sylvian, a little bit proggy. The lyrics engaged, the playing was excellent but it was the voice that dragged you in; I recognized a kindred spirit in those northern vowels.
And Garvey seemed to have a healthy regard for the power of a song:

"... for those of us who turn the journey to work into a scene from a different film every day depending on the soundtrack, who cling to a good song on a bad day like a life raft, can conjure a memory instantly from the opening bars of an old favourite, who have the same feelings when hearing an album we don’t listen to any more that we do when thinking of an ex-lover... there has never been a better time for music.

I've been hooked ever since, willing the boys on and, bless their whiskery chops, they seldom disappoint.

“Melancholy or 'heartbreak songs', generally songs about love and loss, are comforters. You don’t want Julie Andrews when you are upset, you don’t want to be made to feel better with a jolly tune. You want to know that someone else has felt that way and you want to know that it’s OK to feel that way. Whether you are 12 or 20, your capacity for heartbreak is the same. It’s important to aknowledge it and it’s just as important to indulge it, because part of the healing process is to feel sad. So these are songs that make you feel comfortable in your sadness. Melancholy has a real purity to it, which is comfortable.”

2008's 'The Seldom Seen Kid' is surely the best album ever to win the dreaded Mercury Prize and is their finest moment thus far; confident, dynamic, emotionally intelligent, anthemic yet intimate.
Here they tick all of the boxes without compromise. Stadium or unplugged, their musicality bridges the gaps. Even when they are rocking they do so with restraint and subtlety.
The title of the album comes from one of Damon Runyon's Broadway tales; it was the nickname that Garvey's dad gave Bryan Glancy, a friend of the band who died suddenly in 2006. 'Friend of Ours' was written for Glancy and the album dedicated to him ("so gentle shoulder charge, love you mate"). Ultimately, I love this band because they never tire of trusting in tenderness ("I plant the kind of kiss that wouldn't wake a baby") and hold an unflinching, unapologetic affection for their roots that transcends the cynicism and tribalism of much modern music.

Pounding the streets where my father's feet still
Ring from the walls
We'd sing in the doorways, or bicker and row
Just figuring how we were wired inside

Perfect weather to fly

You've all punched the air to 'On a Day Like This' so, although the (self) production on the album is sublime, I've gone for a couple of quieter pieces that they performed in a fantastic session done, almost inevitably, at The Abbey Road Studios with the BBC Concert Orchestra...

The 3rd video is the whole show; full album played in order...

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Albums for Life: Joint 32: Van Morrison: Astral Weeks/Veedon Fleece

"A society which thinks, as ours thinks, that it has outlived the need for magic, is either mistaken in that opinion, or else it is a dying society, perishing for lack of interest in its own maintenance."
British philosopher R. G. Collingwood in 1937.

Christ only knows why this wonderful stuff is not in my top 10.
Maybe it's my stubbornness that's keeping it off the pedestal that it's normally afforded by others. There will surely be lesser achievements above it. Having just immersed myself in these spellbinding enchantments I need to loosen this rant now...

It's easy to dismiss Van as an old curmudgeon these days and, frankly, he doesn't help himself with the grumpy whinges and tiresome whines. But back in the day he was a maverick troubadour who'd turned his back on the pop charts and Them.
Back in the day, 1968 to be specific, Van was a man in search of magic.

If I ventured in the slipstream, between the viaducts of your dream
Where immobile steel rims crack, and the ditch in the back roads stop 

And you can hear that magic in the grooves of Astral Weeks as Morrison conjures, prompts and pushes the musicians, you can hear them listening more than you hear them playing. Apparently there were no chords charts, no predetermined arrangements, just a room full of brilliantly collaborative musicians. "What stood out in my mind was the fact that he allowed us to stretch out," recalled guitarist Jay Berliner. "We were used to playing to charts, but Van just played us the songs on his guitar and then told us to go ahead and play exactly what he felt." That, as much as the brilliance of the song cycle, is the genius of Astral Weeks; that gathering, overseen by Van and producer Lewis Merenstein, who said, upon first hearing the title track "I started crying. It just vibrated in my soul, and I knew that I wanted to work with that sound." And what a sound; the words seem almost secondary to meaning as The Man floats above the proceedings, transcending the form, in search of something that he must surely have wished to be spiritual. It's that spirit of almost existential ambition that makes the music so compelling. The album was apparently recorded in two eight-hour sessions, plus two overdub sessions, sessions that must have been as exhausting as they were inspired. The songs are elevated by the sublime, instinctive playing to something beyond themselves; it isn't always sustained, how could it be? There's rapture and rupture in equal amounts, but when the spell is broken it only serves to reinforce the thrilling intensity of what you have just experienced; it's a bit like Coleridge wakening from the dream that inspired 'Kubla Khan' only to desperately search for sleep again, that he might rejoin and complete the blissful reverie, if only to be born again. It's as though the singer is rejecting experience and praying to be innocent and vulnerable again. You hear Van hopefully reaching and stumbling, with spluttering and scatting that borders on the comical at times, but so free of self consciousness that you can't help but be taken and charmed by that fearless, blithe spirit. The ambition is admirable, what one smart critic called an "intangible narrative of unreachable worlds" And Van's  not just gasping, grasping, searching for himself, he's reaching out to us and for us. It seems inappropriate to focus on individual songs, these are impressionistic moments that come to us almost as communal prayers.
And did we get healed? 

There's what Lester Bangs called "the mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work".
It's an insubstantial yet spellbinding beauty that's as difficult to detail as it is to describe sea mist or the smell of freshly cut grass. I'll be posting no audio clips; you need to sit through the whole thing to taste the flavour and absorb the sense of wonder.

The same intensity resurfaced in 1974 on Veedon Fleece, an album that I always hear as an extension of Astral Weeks' tenuous template. The Veedon Fleece itself is seen as "the symbol of everything yearned for in the songs; spiritual enlightenment, wisdom, community, artistic vision and love. It's suggested that the Fleece might be Van's Irish version of The Holy Grail. Morrison himself explained the title with: "I haven't a clue about what the title means. It's actually a person's name. I have a whole set of characters in my head that I'm trying to fit into things. Veedon Fleece is one of them and I just suddenly started singing it in one of these songs, It's like a stream of consciousness thing."
Maybe this is where Van rediscovered the initial dream state that informed Astral Weeks with such otherworldly beauty.

And as we walked through the streets of Arklow
Oh the colours of the day warm
And our heads were filled with poetry
In the morning coming onto dawn

Here he was again, trying to harness something intangible, to bottle the sea mist, the essence of a time and a place, trying to reclaim the innocence lost.
And here he was again, trying to conjure something holy; something from nothing...
Call this wonderfully willful music what you will, I'm calling it 'magic'.
The only response to the listening of this is silence...

Friday, 22 March 2013

Albums for Life: 33: Ryan Adams: Heartbreaker

Come pick me up
Take me out
Fuck me up
Steal my records
Screw all my friends
Behind my back
With a smile on your face
And then do it again
I wish you would

I know folk who know folk who have worked with Ryan Adams.
Their common concurrence is 'tosser!'.
I have seen one or two bits of footage that reinforce this.
In particular a 'BBC4 Songwriter's Circle' that he shared with Janis Ian and Neil Finn.
Apparently they had rehearsed and were to do their own songs and then pitch in with each others.
Upon performance Adams removed any offer of collaboration, changed his songs and just acted aloof, distant, withdrawn. If you google the three names you'll see that things didn't end well.
Maybe Adams was just having a laugh at the old fogey's expense...

Gossip aside, when Adams split from Whiskytown he came out with this album pretty sharpish. Upon release in 2000 it was universally praised. Produced by Glyn John's son Ethan, he and Adams play everything on the album with the exception of some keyboards by Pat Sansone on three tracks. It also features vocal contributions from Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris.

My manager called and said, 'You have 15 seconds to name this record.' My eyes focused on this poster of Mariah Carey wearing a T-shirt that said HEARTBREAKER. I just shouted, 'Heartbreaker!'

With his hands firmly on the wheel, Ryan produced a controlled and mature collection of mainly downbeat songs. He has released many great albums since, a criticism is that he's too prolific and seems to have lost any sense of quality control. I wonder if it's just that his generous output has made us him too familiar to us... we should really be grateful to the talented little cuss... I'm sure he'd agree.
And still, for me this debut remains his most engaging album. There's an intimate flow that marks it as cohesive singer/songwriting fodder of the highest order. Heartbreaking indeed...

Here's a version of 'Oh My Sweet Carolina' with Laura Marling (and a squeaky chair) stepping into Emmylou's shoes. It's followed by another live performance, of 'Winding Wheel'. Finally my favourite Adams song 'Come Pick Me Up' taken from the aforementioned 'Songwriters' Circle'. They might be quietly smoldering but check out the stunned admiration on the faces of Finn and Ian. Adams is mesmeric during that session; maybe the tension added to the intensity of the performance.
It's well worth checking out the whole thing if you have the time.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Chicken Skin 5: The East Street Band: Should I Fall Behind

Whether you love or loathe Bruce only a fool would deny that this whole performance bristles with emotion.
1.46: Nil Lofgren's unearthly falsetto
2.12: Patti Scialfa's sublime falsetto
2.40: The late great Clarence Clemon's saxophone; as ever just a little sharp...
3.30: The Big Man crouches to sing and... that voice comes out.
4.05: When Bruce sings 'in the shadow of the evening trees, I'll wait for you..."
5.30: Ensemble
A band of brothers for sure; they've seen better days but are still emotionally engaged with their music.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Albums for Life: 34: Crowded House: Together Alone

I don't pretend to know what you want, but I offer love...

OK, whilst I'm in poptastic mode, I'll slip this one in.
I followed Crowded House from the off; loved their Beatlesque melancholy, laughed along at their vain attempts to mimic the Monkees. Neil Finn seemed like an articulate troubadour and the band were fine live.
'Woodface' was excellent if a little happy clappy for me.
Then came this moody morsel, my favourite Crowded House album by a country mile. The first 3 albums had been overseen by Mitchell Froom in the States but for this recording the band retreated to a friend's house in Karekare Beach ("the edge of the world, where all the monsters are") in New Zealand and brought in Youth, the ambassador of ambient beats, for production duties. Brother Tim had become a disruptive element and had been turfed out to be replaced by multi instrumentalist Mark Hart whose use particularly of pedal steel added great washes of sound. The band seemed really together and in a happy place, although the sound of the album does seem steeped in a melancholy that was surely informed by the awesome  environment they found themselves in. Heartbreaking to see drummer Paul Hester clowning it up; he seemed such a happy soul, 'Together Alone' an apt signifier of that soul's future retreat into darkness.
For me the title track is the band's finest moment and features a New Zealand Maori choir and log drummers and was co-written by Ngapo 'Bub' Wehi of the Te Waka Huia Cultural Group Choir, who also provide backing vocals on "In My Command" and "Catherine Wheels"
Neil Finn recognized the importance that the recording process had on the band's unity as a time that would be "etched on to our souls". Looking at the two documentary videos at the bottom of the page you can't help but think that all albums should be made this way...
Before that here are 3 tracks from the album, Private Universe, Distant Sun and first up, the sublime title track.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Read 'In Cassidy's Care' Here and Now

You can now read 'In Cassidy's Care' here on this site without having to go and download it to Kindle on Amazon for £1.97.
Look to the bar on the right, below the Kindle Cover of the book.
See Read In Cassidy's Care' here and now and click on the white page below.
The Issuu Files should open up there and, voila...
Thanks to Bernard Rudden for the nudge.
Album coming soon, blurb below.
I'm proud of the fact that I myself me compiled the Issuu files.
It took more time than writing the book did.
For any other fossils who are conflicted by technology have a look at the video below; suitably archaic, it might ring a few bells...

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 tall tale so loosely up
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 March 2013

Albums for Life: 35: David Gray: White Ladder

"I still pinch myself when I think about it. That record will be there for ever. It just connected in such a big way with people. It was the period that came after that was difficult. I'm sort of seen as a pop artist. I'm dismissed as slight, I'd say, because of White Ladder."

There goes my credibility, but, hey, you can't deny your past.
My feeling is that this will get Seamus over on Vapour Trails gagging; I suspect that his dinner parties have a different soundtrack.
I brought Gray's debut, when he was heralded as 'the new Dylan'.
He got louder and angrier and I lost interest.

Then came this; his 4th attempt, apparently his last shot.
Recorded in 1998, self financed.
It went stellar, it was everywhere.
I lost interest again.
And then Di put it on a few months ago and it all came flooding back, all of the parties and nights out that this backdropped; yup, even the odd dinner party.
So, this then is like my 'disco' album.
It's on the list, not beloved, but much appreciated, like the shoes that walked me through the odd dark alley.
Here's a live version of 'Babylon'.
Anyone recognize the guitarist to his right?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Marina and Ulay

Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.
At her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’ as part of the show, where she shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Albums for Life: 36: Jeff Buckley: Grace

This is our last goodbye
I hate to feel the love between us die
But it's over
Just hear this and then I'll go
You gave me more to live for
More than you'll ever know

I still get a little choked when I listen to this.
What a wonderful, spiraling voice.
He knew how to reign things in and he knew how to let things go; no lazy or affected histrionics, just perfectly pitched passion.
So much left unsaid.
Enough said...
Here are two songs from 'Grace' followed by a restrained stunner that you might not have heard from the posthumous hodgepodge that was 'Sketches for my Sweetheart the Drunk'.
It's then followed by a great BBC4 documentary where the world and Brad Pitt gushes along.
See below or follow this link...

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Albums for Life: 37: Stina Nordenstam: And She Closed Her Eyes

Little star, so you had to go
You must have wanted him to know
Poor little thing...

Steve Davis my old co-producer with Miracle Mile (circa Bicycle Thieves/Candids) didn't enthuse much; he could be a sanguine chap; so I sat up and listened when he told me that a song on his car radio had made him pull off the motorway so that he could hear it better. He'd thought that it was a Bjork demo, a bit thin and scratchy and then "it exploded into glorious technicolour".
He was speaking about 'Little Star' and what could well be a future 'Chicken Skin': the moment when the icy mix moves from a dry scratchy guitar strumalong into the exquisite warmth of an alto saxophone solo.
This is definitely one for the late night headphones, you need to hear that voice at close quarters. I've heard it described as a 'ghost voice'. There's a fragility that you either love or loathe; she's a bit like a Swedish Shirley Temple whispering in your ear. I guess your enjoyment depends on whether you hear Lolita or Stina.
I hear loneliness and spine tingling intimacy...

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Chicken Skin 4: The Beatles (Macca Really) : The Long and Winding Road & Golden Slumbers

"It's rather a sad song. I like writing sad songs, it's a good bag to get into because you can actually acknowledge some deeper feelings of your own and put them in it. It's a good vehicle, it saves having to go to a psychiatrist."

The Long and Winding Road was inspired by the B842, a Scottish road that led Paul McCartney to the door of his Scottish pile in Kyntyre and, of course, back into Linda's arms. It is often dismissed as one of the the Beatles songs that Phil Spector ruined post production with over elaborate arrangements. There's also the accusation leveled at John Lennon that he tried to sabotage the recording with his deliberately ham fisted bass playing. I kind of like it when he goes walkabout; it's a nice counter to the song's heavenly ham... Whatever, it's recognized that Macca hated the Spector version, demanding that the harp be removed and the excesses toned down; he was furious, insulted at the intrusion. 'Don't ever do it again' he snapped. He was becoming increasingly isolated; the other Beatles were already being represented by Allen Klein and Paul's requests became ultimatums, which were ultimately ignored...
"The album was finished a year ago, but a few months ago American record producer Phil Spector was called in by Lennon to tidy up some of the tracks. But a few weeks ago, I was sent a re-mixed version of my song 'The Long and Winding Road' with harps, horns, an orchestra, and a women's choir added. No one had asked me what I thought. I couldn't believe it." 
His mistreatment effectively led to the the break up of The Beatles. 
I'm so used to the strings and choir that the 'Naked' version came as quite a shock. There's a sadness in McCartney's voice that I find effecting, particularly as he hits the bridge.
Here's both versions; the recently remastered Spector take followed by the raw version, which is spoilt a little by what seems to be auto tuning on McCartney's voice in the intro...
Chicken Skin: 1.25

Paul also had a great rawness to his voice when he wanted to.
Here's 'Golden Slumbers'.
Hear the glorious rasp as he bawls "smiles awake you when you rise."
Chicken Skin: 44 seconds

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Albums for Life: 38: The Smiths: The Queen is Dead

                                                          "Talent borrows, genius steals"

Back in 2000 Marcus and I completed 'Slow Fade' at Jacobs Studios, a residential studio in the sticks down Farnham way. Jacobs is the classic country pile; a faded glory that was just too expansive to maintain. We played tennis on moss strewn courts and peered into the green grunge that floated atop the pool debating whether to dive or bomb or just go for another Pimms.

Everyone was excited at the time because Paul Weller was doing an album there. I was more jazzed by the revelation that, back in the winter of 1985, this was where The Smiths had recorded 'The Queen is Dead' (initially entitled 'Margaret on the Guillotine').
If I'm honest my favourite Smiths album will always be the blissful economies of 'Hatful of Hollow' but I note that as it is a compilation of b sides, John Peel sessions and discards it's not admissible here. So 'The Queen is Dead' it is. It's as opulent as the band would get; the Stephen Street production is rich, the arrangements developed to allow for strings and drama. There are even backing vocals, done by Morrissey himself under the name of Ann Coates. The songs are consistently strong and Mozza could be a funny man:

So, I broke into the palace 
With a sponge and a rusty spanner
She said : "Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing"
I said : "That's nothing - you should hear me play piano"

For reasons of nostalgia my two favourite Smiths songs remain 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now' and 'Reel Around the Fountain' from the afore mentioned 'Hatful' but 'The Queen is Dead' also holds two of my other high points; 'There is a Light That Never Goes Out' and 'The Boy With a Thorn in his Side'. We're so used to Mozza's grumpy solo persona that it's easy to forget the giddy euphoria of the early jingle jangle. I'm playing this now and reeling round the kitchen...

Not everyone sees this album as perfect however.
The Quietus, as ever, is a little contrary...

Monday, 11 March 2013

Stuff and Nonsence

Marcus came over yesterday.
We had a photo session to do.
The new album requires pictures.
We had an 'its grim up north' directive from Bazza.
Di dutifully stood us up against a white wall.
We held our breath.
She pulled the trigger.
I think that it's safe to say that we can no longer be regarded as 'totty'.

There goes the 'Smash Hits' cover.
Those of you with a keen eye might recognize the venue as the same industrial estate where The Sunday Times photographer took shots to ornament our double spread interview which was to launch us upon the world and the future domination of its' charts.
Those shots would then become the cover of 'Glow'.
Look closely.
Don't you recognize the green door?
It still needs a lick of paint...
Anyway, job done.
We now await the production of the album and the offer of an Esquire fashion shoot.
We might have copies of 'In Cassidy's Care' available before the end of the month.
The 'hard copy' release via Proper will be a few months as we await review slots in the monthlies, but we're hoping that the 'High Quality Studio Master' download will be available before that.

I've been a bit dismissive of the new Ed Harcourt album 'Back in to the Woods' rush recorded as he reportedly could only afford 6 hours in Abbey Road studios. On first listen it sounded like it was recorded in the toilets using their famous 'bog echo' on the voice. This is now growing on me and I'm loving Ed's way with a melody again.
There's an interesting piece on The Quietus here where the bearded wonder chooses his favourite albums and what an eclectic bakers' dozen it is.
Meanwhile, I'm listening to the new Bowie album and willing it to be wonderful.
I think it's working...

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Albums for Life: 39: Mary Chapin Carpenter: Between Here and Gone

There's devilish wizardry afoot; Toronto Tim's at it again; invading my mental space; reducing my list to nowt but post dated premonitions. I'm using TT's words to describe this wonderfully bleak album. I've been accused of 'verbosity' after my Roddy Frame choice(s) at 40 so, why not let someone else do the donkey work. Eeaw, eeaw, he always know what I'm thinking...
Here below is Tim from yesterday over on Cathedrals of Sound, followed by my response, placed under 'Comments'.
I'd probably have gone for the same track choices from this subdued but beautiful concoction but then I'm sure he knew that anyway...
Now Tim, once more, I'm peeling a root vegetable.
Is it:
a: a carrot
b: a parsnip
c: a prefab sprout

#40 - MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER - Between Here & Gone (2004)

Toronto Tim: 

This is one of my favorite records of the last decade. Trev has mentioned MCC a couple of times on his blog. I've barely spoken to him about her work, but I've been secretly hoping he'd spotlight this beautiful album eventually 'coz there's no way my words can do it justice. For me it's her strongest release, a serious introspective record which compares with Gretchen Peters' best work, and mostly avoids her usual detours into uptempo Nashville twang. The title cut is absolutely stunning; 'In My Heaven' is well... heavenly. There's also the haunting 'Grand Central Station' one of the finest 9/11 tributes (along with SunKilMoon's 'Gentle Moon' & Miracle Mile's 'Falling Man'). 
Again, I can't decide which samples to post. 
Every one is special, so here's a bunch...

Between Here & Gone:
Grand Central Station:
In My Heaven:
Goodnight America:
Shelter Of Storms:

There is an intensity to MCC's work that can come over as overly earnest; on occasion it feels as though you're being straightened out by your favourite primary school teacher. She is seriously sincere. 'Mawkish' is a stone oft cast, unjustly, in her direction.
'The Calling' and 'Age of Miracles' are excellent (as are the early pleasures of 'Stones in the Road' and 'Come On, Come On') but I concur with Tim's choice of 'Between Here & Gone', a moving work of wonder that initially seems as unremarkable as its cover. It then proceeds to insinuate itself imperceptibly into the chambers of your heart and squeeze very gently until you can't help but fall heart over head for it's world weary tenderness.

Yeah, I'm just wondering how we know where we belong
Is it in the arc of the moon leaving shadows on the lawn?
In the path of fireflies and a single bird at dawn?
Singing in between here and gone

Mawkish my arse...