Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Albums for Life: Joint 12: The Band: 'The Band'/Jackson Browne: 'Late for the Sky'

Misjudgment: somehow I have 13 albums left for 12 spaces.
I'm not going to try and muster a connection between these two classics.
Neither am I going to write at length about the amazingly mature musical dexterity, unmatched ensemble playing and brilliantly timeless songwriting on The Band's amazing 2nd album.
Instead I'm going to direct you to Seamus's consummate articulations over on his Vapour Trails blog.

That leaves me to concentrate on Jackson Browne's 'Late for the Sky' where Browne tapped into a similar rich vein of romantic, cinematic escapism as Springsteen's 'Born to Run', which was irresistible to my early adolescent self, trapped behind boarding school windows.
Wide screened yet intimate; and there was always a car...

Look, you're standing in the window
Of a house nobody lives in
And I'm sitting in a car across the way
Let's just say an early model Chevrolet
You go pack your sorrows
The trash man comes tomorrow
We'll throw 'em on the curb
And then just sail away

After seeing him on an Old Grey Whistle Test Special Jackson was irresistible to me; he had that lanky long hair that I'd always craved and he cared about the planet and all of its inhabitants...
His environmentalism and humanism may have been vague and occasionally vacuous - "somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go may lie a reason you were alive, but you'll never know" - but I believed every word that he sang; his intense wide eyed sincerity convinced you of his conviction. His sharp sad eyed observations were tempered by a soft focussed mellow musicality, he made a great choice of side kick in David Lindley whose fiddle and guitar ramblings added another layer of emotive melody.
This was an important release; it paved the way for a glut of lyrical West Coast singer songwriters. Whether you thank or curse JB all depends where you stand on The Eagles: some might say 'on the back of their necks' but then... without 'Late For the Sky' there might have been no platform for Warren Zevon or Tom Waits...
I love this album so much; it offers comfort and nostalgia.
It also contains a song that always makes me think of Di.
I play 'For a Dancer' and she always dances for me.
I've worn out 2 LPs, a cassette and I'm currently on my 3rd remastered CD.
£3 from Amazon here. 
Buy it and put it on the car stereo.
The middle of the road will never be a sweeter place to be...

Monday, 29 April 2013

Alaska on 'Cathedrals of Sound'

There's a nice piece on Miracle Mile's  'Alaska' today over on the 'Cathedrals of Sound' blog.
Thanks David...

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Albums for Life: 13: Frank Sinatra: In the Wee Small Hours

In the early 50s Frank's glittering career as darling of the Bobby Soxers had passed him by. He lost the plot, attempted suicide and then had to reset. Now in his 30s he was desperate to relaunch his career. 'From Here to Eternity' put him back in the limelight, earning him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in 1953, but it was signing to Capitol Records the same year that rekindled his musical career. 'Songs for Swinging Lovers' and 'Swing Easy' were recorded and released in 1954 and both were hits.
Meanwhile, despite his resurgent public profile, Sinatra's private life was a mess. He'd divorced his wife Nancy in 1951 and married Ava Gardener 10 days later. Frank and Ava were jealous and driven creatures, both renowned for their insatiable, extra curricular sexual appetites; the marriage was rocky from the off. That relationship's decline informed the melancholy that permeates every moment of this gloriously down beat album. Recorded in 1955, produced by Voyle Gilmore, 'In the Wee Small Hours' is regarded by many as the first ever concept album. Depression, loneliness, lost love and late night ennui were the themes addressed.
Recorded in 5 sessions at KHJ studios in Hollywood, Sinatra was emotional and intense throughout.
One witness noted:

“Sinatra takes a gulp of the lukewarm coffee remaining in the cup most recently handed to him, and the he lifts the inevitable hat from his head a little, and plops it right back, almost as if he wanted to relieve the pressure from the hat band. The studio empties fast; just music stands and chairs remain. Sinatra flops onto one of the chairs, crosses his legs, and hums a fragment of one of the songs he's been recording. He waves to the night janitor now straightening up the studio, and says: "Jeez, what crazy working hours we got. We both should've been plumbers, huh?"

This could be my favourite vocal performance on any one album.
I love this because my dad Terry loves it.
He loved it because his dad Joshua loved it.
Frank's heartache floats upon Nelson Riddle's exquisite arrangements.
Never has sorrow sounded so sweet.
Oddly, the clips available on YouTube have been sped up...
... this is is music that needs to unravel in its own sweet time.
I can only source the original audio as a 'link' so...
Listen to the whole album here.

Sunday Morning Blue: Catherine Feeny: Mr Blue/Forever

Amazing what you can do with the same four chords.
Unremarkable yet undeniably lovely stuff from the very gentle 'Hurricane Glass'.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Albums For Life: 14: David Bowie: Hunky Dory

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace I'm going through

Much as I admire the experimental and groundbreaking Berlin albums it was the early years that really excited me. Who could forget Bowie's first ever TOTP performance when he and The Spiders took the country by storm? The song was 'Starman' and the year was 1972. I'd never seen anything like it. We all took the piss of course; that weird looking... thing. Was it male or female? The band were classic: Boulder with his big grey sideburns, Ronson looking like a plasterer in a jump suit. And Bowie put his arm around him!
I secretly loved it; not just the song but the whole vibe: Bowie's blue guitar, his flaming hair, the smoldering smirk as he sang the first lines.
They sang live in those days, and what a vocal!
You can tell that he's thinking "Christ, I'm good!" 
You can tell that he's thinking "Christ, we've cracked it!"

I'd been beguiled by Bowie when 'Space Oddity' synchronized with Apollo 11's moon landing in 1969. I rushed out and brought that single; my second ever 45 (after Nillson's 'Without You'.) Then I forgot about him until the recognition with 'Starman' on TOTP. He was back. I got the Ziggy Stardust album and loved it. And then the same year Bowie released 'Changes' as a single, closely followed in 1973 by 'Life on Mars'. They weren't on Ziggy so it had me running down to the Arndale centre to talk to that charmless chump who ran the record dept in Woolworth. He got his big red book out and it transpired that both songs came from an album that had been released in 1971. Hunky Dory. It was duly ordered and I started saving my pocket money.
For this list I went for Hunky Dory because it's bereft of the iconic myth making. This one had to stand on its own two feet, on the strength of the songs alone. And it's a songwriting masterclass; augmented by some brilliant piano playing by Rick Wakeman and some very tasteful, understated guitar from Mick Ronson. This came before The Spiders from Mars and the silver suits, but it was the first album to feature that tight format of Boulder/Woodmansey/Ronson. It also confirmed that Bowie's sax playing was almost as bad as Van Morrison's.
It seemed from the Deitrich inspired cover that Bowie was indeed going through some changes. His production co credit (with Ken Scott) was as 'the actor' and this was really the beginning of Bowie the chameleon. Stylistically the album is all over the place; cinematic, ambitious, glam rock, pop, folk. He covered all bases with consummate ease, producing an album of easy listening kitsch. There was a surprisingly engaging coherence to the lyrics that opened up the material to a previously reticent public.
Bowie himself recognized the importance of the album's accessibility:

"Hunky Dory gave me a fabulous groundswell. I guess it provided me, for the first time in my life, with an actual audience – I mean, people actually coming up to me and saying, 'Good album, good songs.' That hadn't happened to me before. It was like, 'Ah, I'm getting it, I'm finding my feet. I'm starting to communicate what I want to do. Now: what is it I want to do?' There was always a double whammy there."

Who could resist the hooks of 'Oh You Pretty Things', the stutter of 'Changes' and the drama of the album's highlight 'Life on Mars'? That song was apparently inspired musically by Frank Sinatra's 'My Way', although 'My Way's' self referential lyric is replaced by something impenetrable but none the less beguiling. I suspect that it was in part produced by Bowie's process of 'cut up' lyrics, a style borrowed from William Burroughs.

"My workspace was a big empty room with a chaise longue; a bargain-price art nouveau screen; a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon." It's about a sensitive young girl's reaction to the media. I think she finds herself disappointed with reality ... that although she's living in the doldrums of reality, she's being told that there's a far greater life somewhere, and she's bitterly disappointed that she doesn't have access to it."

Apparently Bowie recorded the vocal for 'Life On Mars?' in one gushing take and wept upon completion. For all of its abstract imagery it has an undeniably emotional impact which was bolstered by Ronson's stirring string arrangement. The quality of Bowie's writing and the weight of the song's punch is highlighted by this piano only version taken from a 70s Parkinson show:

Here's the same song in its full glory followed by an Old Grey Whistle Test performance of 'Oh You Pretty Things'. Finally another album highlight, 'Quicksand'.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Lovesong: Rita Coolidge & Kris Kristofferson: Help Me Make it Through the Night

Call me old fashioned... but this is lovely.
I think it wise that they shot Kris from the waist up...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Albums for Life: 15: John Martyn: Solid Air

Don’t know what’s going wrong inside
And I can tell you that it’s hard to hide 

When you’re living on solid air 

I first remember seeing John Martyn on The Old Grey Whistle Test back in 1973. He was plugged in to what looked like an old reel to reel tape machine (an Echoplex) and was wrenching some amazing sounds out of a beaten up old acoustic guitar. It was an extraordinary performance; he gurned and slurred as he wailed about the devil. He then performed 'May You Never' and I was lost. This huge, hairy hulk with the face of a cherub and the voice of an angel produced a heavenly sound. His song was for a fallen brother and yet the message was undeniable: L O V E
'Solid Air' was, remarkably, the 25 year old's 5th album. The folky finger picking was ably accompanied by mainstay, double bassist Danny Thompson and given a smokey, jazzy undertone by the sax of Tony Coe, famous for having played the Pink Panther theme tune.
It's a classic 'chill out' record; you could get stoned just by listening to it.

The template for the album's sound was put in place by the previous album 'Bless the Weather' but all the stars aligned for 'Solid Air'. Here he transcended the limitations of the singer/songwriter genre to create something truly original.
"I was very sweet and gentle until I was 20," he confessed "then I got the heave with Donovan and Cat Stevens and all that terribly nice rolling up joints. I'm not really very nice, so I consciously turned away from all that."
There are lullabies and blues colorings in with the jazz flourishes but the best description that I could muster would be progressive folk/soul.  It's not going to sell many t shirts, is it?
"There's a space between words and music and my voice lives right there,"
Martyn was, by all accounts, a violent and gentle man. He was a warrior for sure, although unsure of his foe he thrashed around, charging at windmills in his final years. His hard man/hard drinker persona became his lifestyle, one that he could never sustain, eventually leading to a perforated ulcer and a lost leg. The excesses finally claimed him in 2009.
The Scotsman proclaimed 'Solid Air' 'The 6th Best Scottish Album Ever' behind:
- Primal Scream (Screamadelica)
- The Proclaimers (This is the Story)
- Average White Band (AWB)
- The Blue Nile (A Walk Across the Rooftops)
- Teenage Fan Club (Bandwagonesque)
Mmm, I'd agree with one of those...
Here are those two 1973 OGWT performances followed by a full Dublin concert from 1987.
It's a great way to waste an hour.
If you haven't the time go to 5.15 to hear the title track from 'Solid Air'.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Richie Havens 1941 - 2013

Here are a couple of links to decent obituaries.
The Guardian
The Independent
And a couple of covers, old and new...
Seems that the man only knew one strum but, blimey, what a strum...

Albums for Life: 16: Midlake: The Trials of Van Occupanther

So they came down from the north, carrying all they owned, with a basket full of food and clothes. They were stopped by a weekend raid, travelling the woods one day. They tried to put up a fight, but lost.

It reads a bit like the start of a Cormac McCarthy novel....
This is a strangely compelling album.
I've just heard about the death of Richie Havens and this music is surely inspired by his generation's bohemian influence. It has the whiff of patchouli oil in its 70s sodden folk rock; you can smell the sheepskin jacket that the ever present flautist is wearing. The Band, Fleetwood Mac and CSN&Y haunt the tracks.
Yet lyrically the songs have the ambience of a 19th Century Arcadian drama; quaint and proper; there's an almost religious rigor to these tales of pioneering, settling and community building. If they remade 'The Whicker Man' (they already did?) and reset it just off the Donner trail these guys would surely write the soundtrack.

It's otherworldly and strangely familiar; there's something very traditional in the musicality and something quite charming in the simplistic trust in, and love of nature:
For myself I must remind, that the woods are usually kind. We like the newness, the newness of all that has grown in our garden soaking for so long...
This is earnest, earthy, optimistic music that's rooted in the past, yet music that reaches forward. I'm unsure of what the concept is, but there surely is one.
I'd like to think that Richie Havens would have loved this album's vibe. 
It certainly makes me want for a better, bohemian lifestyle. 
Woodstock or Wooburn? 
That is the question...

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Albums for Life: 17: Elvis Costello: King of America

I'll build a bonfire of my dreams 
And burn a broken effigy of me and you

It was either this or 1982's bucolic 'Imperial Bedroom', which followed the pure country of 1981's 'Almost Blue'. IB is a lyricist's delight, full of brilliant bile; copious quotable couplets. For King of America EC wandered back into the world of 'Americana'.  He'd already earned his spurs in that genre to be honest; ironic that the backing band for his New Wave debut 'My Aim is True' was the West Coast soft rockers Clover, the type of band that had the punks spitting feathers in the late 70s. I saw them at Blackburn Town Hall at the time, supporting Lynyrd Skynyrd and they were blandtastic; even for me.
In the mid 80s Elvis fell out with The Attractions' bass player Bruce Thomas, eventually leading to him splitting the band.

He toured solo in the States and brushed shoulders with T-Bone Burnette with whom he shared the bill. Elvis relocated in LA at Ocean Way studios with T- Bone as the producer, who assembled a crew of top notch session players, notably the TCB Band who had backed the other Elvis in the 70s. There's a country twang for sure, but also intimacy in the brushed drums and upright bass backing. Much admired for his 'voice like a can opener' I always preferred Elvis when he stopped shouting at me and crooned, and there is some great singing here, particularly on 'American Without Tears', 'Brilliant Mistake' and 'Indoor Fireworks'.
'Sleep of the Just' still knocks me sidewards.
This was probably the last great Costello album; for me his most intimate, engaging and compelling.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Albums for Life: 18: Bob Dylan: Time Out Of Mind

It's not dark yet, but it's getting there...

There was a time when the songs would come three or four at the same time, but those days are long gone... Once in a while, the odd song will come to me like a bulldog at the garden gate and demand to be written. But most of them are rejected out of my mind right away. You get caught up in wondering if anyone really needs to hear it. Maybe a person gets to the point where they have written enough songs. Let someone else write them.

Off the back of 'Acadie' I slavishly followed Daniel Lanois' productions; falling for Emmylou's 'Wrecking Ball' in particular. 
I've admired Dylan but never loved him; he was recommended to me rather than discovered by me, so was always someone else's joy. I admired 'Highway 61' and 'Blonde on Blonde' and dug the heartache of his 'break up' record; I knew what he was talking about on 'Blood on the Tracks'
Then came 'Time Out of Mind'. 
Dylan addresses mortality face on and uncryptically and it's all rather... moving. Lanois' productions work best with simple chords; allowing him the sonic space to create his wonderful washes of sound; 3 chord blues abounds but there are ballads you'd murder for. 
Lanois dried things up, in line with the arid articulations; there's a wonderful organic clatter and thrum to it all: "When Bob read me the lyrics of this record we were at a hotel room here in New York city. The words were hard, were deep, were desperate, were strong.... That's the record I wanted to make."
The sessions were loose; lots of improvisation and rewrites. Lanois devised a method of dropping Dylan's re-imagined lyrics into early takes. Two bands competed for Bob's attention and affections. During recording keyboard player Jim Dickinson noted "I haven't been able to tell what's actually happening. I know they were listening to playbacks, I don't know whether they were trying to mix it or not! Twelve musicians playing live—three sets of drums,... it was unbelievable—two pedal steels, I've never even heard two pedal steels played at the same time before! ... I don't know man, I thought that much was overdoing it, quite frankly."

Although Dylan wasn't totally happy with the album he did hold it up against his earlier work:
Those records were made a long time ago, and you know, truthfully, records that were made in that day and age all were good. They all had some magic to them because the technology didn't go beyond what the artist was doing. It was a lot easier to get excellence back in those days on a record than it is now... The high priority is technology now. It's not the artist or the art. It's the technology that is coming through. That's what makes Time Out of Mind... it doesn't take itself seriously, but then again, the sound is very significant to that record. If that record was made more haphazardly, it wouldn't have sounded that way. It wouldn't have had the impact that it did.... There wasn't any wasted effort onTime Out of Mind and I don't think there will be on any more of my records.

Many have criticized the woozy production saying that its hazy half light contradicts Dylan's bitter focus, but I think it helps push Dylans voice (richer than ever here) to the fore; the echo gives a layer of ageless resonance, making Dylan's aged rock a rock of ages; he speaks directly to you and you can hear what he's saying. The music doesn't retreat, it simply wraps itself around the singer; a shawl for his sagging shoulders, a rug for the old man's knees.
He's sad, profound and, as always, a little grumpy, but he's never sounded so good...

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Albums for Life: 19: Daniel Lanois: Acadie

When I was recording 'Candids' with Steve Davis in the early 90s we shared a studio in London's historic Boundary Row studios (near the Elephant and Castle) with Bert Jansch who was recording stuff that would later make it on to his 'When the Circus Comes to Town' album. After each day's recordings Steve returned home to his nearby digs, locking me in the studio. Bert wasn't very chatty; my only real company was the sole CD in the studios; and I had 'Acadie' on constant rotation into the wee small hours as I lounged on the studio couch and feasted on Rich Tea biscuits and bourbon.
It was the perfect soundtrack to my decadence.
I was never a big royalist but I remember turning on the studio TV in the early hours to hear about Lady Di's accident in Paris. One of Bert's band howled "die bitch' at the screen and we nearly engaged in fisticuffs. I crawled back to the sanctuary of my couch and remember this feeling like the most sorrowful, enveloping music ever, oddly appropriate for my unexpected grief; particularly the end song, a graceful elegy; the hymn 'Amazing Grace'.
Could be a Neil Diamond moment but it's not...

These otherworldly tunes are benefit of Lanois' Quebecois heritage. There's the trademark swampy ambience married with a startling intimacy in these folk tales, told in both French and English. Recorded in New Orleans in 1989, this is a musical connect between the a long lost Acadian way and the surviving Cajun culture that still thrives just on the other side of the bayou...
Layers of shimmering sound insinuate and then retreat for raw, untreated moments of transcendent beauty.
I'd rather not try and demystify the magic here.
This sits sweetly with the recent albums that cited sound over substance as their justification for featuring so highly on my list of beloved music.
And I love this album's sound; I just press play and disappear.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Albums for Life: Joint 20: Josh Ritter: Animal Years/Declan O'Rourke: Since Kyabram

I miscalculated; my Top 20 was but 19.
Great, I could fill that void with one of my willfully neglected favourite classics. I sat pondering whether it should be 'Scott 3' or 'Scott 4'. After what seemed like an age, I gave up on the warbling intensity to peel spuds. Then the iPod gifted me 'Girl in the War' followed promptly by 'Galileo'.

Peter said to Paul "you know all those rules we wrote
are just rules of the game and the rules are the first to go"
Paul said to Peter "you've gotta rock yourself a little harder
Pretend the dove from above is a dragon and your feet are on fire..."

Who puts the rainbow in the sky?
Who lights the stars at night?

Good advice and time honored questions.
Unremarkable fare but daily bread for sure.
Ritter and O'Rourke.
They are both unremarkable, low profile, under the radar etc...
No whiff of prima donna here...
Ritter is often dismissed as 'Dylan Lite'.
He's surely cheerier than Bob...

O'Rourke's modest minstrel muse is surely Sexsmith.
They both look like they've been let out of the care centre for the day...

The arrangements too are unremarkable but perfect.
It's the little things.
On 'Girl in the War' I love the cymbal after "I got a girl in the war Paul her eyes are like champagne" splash. Then 'they sparkle, bubble over, in the morning all you've got is rain...' 
On 'Galileo' I love the imperfect unwinding of the melody, then the high falsetto on "someone like you you and made them miiiiine..."
Sexsmith for sure.
Both albums are full of such moments.
If you want to take a punt on something unfamiliar I'd go for these two; imposters in my top 20 for sure. They are the unknown support that blow the main act off the stage.
Simple fare for sure.
Some days the best tastes are the simplest.
These are both fresh bread and unsalted butter to me.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Di's Albums for Life: 30 to 21

Di always wanted to rock, invariably rolls...

21. Pontiac - Lyle Lovett
22. A Night At The Opera - Queen
23. Avalon Sunset - Van Morrison
24. Souls Core - Shaun Mullins
25. Hand Built By Robots - Newton Faulkner
26. Tuscon - Giant Giant Sand
27. Blue Valentine - Tom Waits
28. Homogenic - Bjork/Poses - Rufus Wainwright
29. Come Away With Me - Nora Jones
30. Exit Music - Steven Lindsey

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Albums for Life: 21: The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds

It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I love the album so much. I've just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life ... I figure no one is educated musically 'til they've heard that album ... I love the orchestra, the arrangements ... it may be going overboard to say it's the classic of the century ... but to me, it certainly is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways ... I've often played Pet Sounds and cried. I played it to John [Lennon] so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence ... it was the record of the time. The thing that really made me sit up and take notice was the bass lines ... and also, putting melodies in the bass line. That I think was probably the big influence that set me thinking when we recorded Pepper, it set me off on a period I had then for a couple of years of nearly always writing quite melodic bass lines. 'God Only Knows' is a big favourite of mine ... very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me, that one. On "You Still Believe in Me", I love that melody – that kills me ... that's my favourite, I think ... it's so beautiful right at the end ... comes surging back in these multi-coloured harmonies ... sends shivers up my spine.
Paul McCartney

In an attempt to make this list as personal as possible I've tried to steer clear of the obvious 'recognised' classics. However, this oft lauded album is kind of relevant after the last post. The similarity to Talk Talk's 'Spirit of Eden' is tenuous but relevant to me. Both albums are more about sound than form and, as I've mentioned before, changed the way I listened to music; made me look beyond the songs towards the sonic possibilities of music. That has led me to some albums that I wouldn't have normally let in the back door; Miles Davis's 'In A Silent Way' has just wiped its feet and is sitting down with me for a coffee and a Hobnob...
With Pet Sounds Brian Wilson ditched the easy surfer sounds in an attempt at creating something new. Egged on by The Beatles' experiments in sound and recording that informed Rubber Soulan envious Wilson wanted to throw down an American marker; a challenge to the Fab Four's pioneering spirit.
"I really wasn't quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs ... that somehow went together like no album ever made before, and I was very impressed. I said, "That's it. I really am challenged to do a great album."
In an attempt to create a unique baroque 'n' roll  he layered harmonised vocals and overdubbed conventional instruments with more unusual ones to make a sound unique; unrecognizable. Wilson's box of tricks included bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, Theremin, dog whistles trains, Hawaiian string instruments, Coca Cola cans and barking dogs.
Some might say 'barking' was the operative word.

Wilson had recently met a young jingle writer Tony Asher and approached him for collaboration.
"The general tenor of the lyrics was always his," Asher later recalled, "and the actual choice of words was usually mine. I was really just his interpreter."
Beyond the harmonies The Beach Boys themselves were used sparingly, the majority of the musicality was provided by that famous session collective 'The Wrecking Crew'. Brian Wilson oversaw the whole project, a frenzied Prospero writing, arranging and producing. The new Ampex 8 track tape machines meant that he could play the studio as an instrument; layering sound upon sound to create his own, otherworldly wall of sound. He then rendered the final mixes down to mono believing that was a more reliable version of his vision, fearful of the vagaries of modern stereos. It also suited his own circumstances: he was beaten by his father Murry as a child and was rendered deaf in his right ear...

Listening to the record is still an event; there could be no reproducing these arrangements live. Although often cited as the first concept album the only real concept is one of sound. But the sound would not have resonated so sweetly without the songs. And what songs; Wilson's genius was that he could present something as both elaborate and child like; you could connect and engage on so many levels with 'You Still Believe in Me' and the sublime 'God Only Knows'. It's amazing to think that 'Good Vibrations' was left off the album, a judgement call made easily by Brian as he felt that it wasn't quite ready. If he had replaced the lame, formulaic opener 'Sloop John B' with 'Good Vibrations' the album would have been nigh on perfect.
It's ironic that 'I Know There's an Answer' was originally entitled 'Hang on to Your Ego', as part of the album's appeal is in the almost willful anonymity of the performances; no-one is shouting 'look at me'. That faceless beauty adds to 'Pet Sounds' graceful charms. There's an elegiac elegance as it unwinds; you don't feel the passing of time; just a warm melancholic embrace from the speakers who, if they could speak, would surely be saying "this is frickin' mono?"

Monday, 15 April 2013

In Cassidy's Care: The Linn Studio Master HR Download

Miracle Mile are excited to announce that, as a pre release exclusive, a 'Studio Master Download' of 'In Cassidy's Care' is being offered by Linn Records as part of their prestigious HR Series.
A Studio Master Download is the highest quality music file available anywhere. It allows you to hear a recording exactly the way the original artist and producer intended it to sound, before it was altered to fit on a CD or squashed down to MP3 size.
Please be aware that you need the appropriate streamer to play the HR releases.
Although the CD is not officially released until July 22 (through Proper Distribution) you can purchase pre release copies exclusively via our website using PayPal.
If that doesn't work for you please contact me directly at:
Alternatively please click on the link below to access the Linn download.


Albums for Life: 22: Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden

We listen too much to the telephone and we listen too little to nature. The wind is one of my sounds. A lonely sound, perhaps, but soothing. Everybody should have his personal sounds to listen for—sounds that will make him exhilarated and alive, or quiet and calm... As a matter of fact, one of the greatest sounds of them all—and to me it is a sound—is utter, complete silence. 
~André Kostelanetz

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."

~Aldous Huxley

“If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience.”
~John Cage 

"Silence is more musical than any song."
~Christina Rossetti

I'd always been a song man. 
This was the album that really introduced me to the importance of silence and sound.
I guess that at the time of its release many might have regarded 'Spirit of Eden' as commercial suicide. After the chart success of 1986's 'The Colour of Spring' the band retreated to Wessex studios during 1987 and 1988. Overseen by the band's creative conscience Mark Hollis and the returning producer, Tim Friese-Greene, the musicians often recorded in darkness as they improvised unscripted performances that were eventually edited down to this final form. 
Almost impossible to categorize, the best that the critics could do was 'alternative' or 'post rock'. It was everything and nothing: rock, jazz, ambient, classical. Engineer Phil Brown remembers that the album was "recorded by chance, accident, and hours of trying every possible overdub idea." 
The band sent EMI a cassette of the final mixes. EMI were bemused and asked singer Mark Hollis to consider re recording.
He refused.
There was stalemate with the band eventually leaving the label after a prolonged wrangle.
The album was brilliant but unmarketable and effectively untourable...
Hollis noted: "There is no way that I could ever play again a lot of the stuff I played on this album because I just wouldn't know how to. So, to play it live, to take a part that was done in spontaneity, to write it down and then get someone to play it, would lose the whole point, lose the whole purity of what it was in the first place."
Upon release The Spectator labelled it 'almost willfully obscure."

It's a beautiful but challenging album. 
It whispers and occasionally screams.
You can hear the players thinking as they play; the space between the notes as important as the notes themselves. 
Again, it makes you forget about song and really think about sound
There is calm, there are occasional moments of stormy discord. 
It's textured and often quite glacial in tempo. 
This isn't driving music, you need to immerse yourself in it; you've got to want to love its muted melancholy, to indulge the ambition that many still dismiss as pretension. 
Difficult to categorise?
Let's call it 'Art'.
Because of 'Spirit of Eden' Talk Talk are now rightly recognized as pioneers; it's a massively influential album. Would Sigur Ros, Mogwai or Radiohead have had the courage to make such challenging music without this recording's legacy?
Apparently Elbow's Guy Garvey is having 'New Grass' from this album's follow up 'Laughing Stock' played at his funeral... but this isn't music for funerals; this should be played at birthing pools around the world. Birth and rebirth: many have noted that 'Eden...' was a genesis, where their musical life began. 
Both 'Laughing Stock' and Hollis's solo album mined a similar vein but for me 'Spirit of Eden' remains the mother lode.
It certainly encouraged me to listen to certain music differently; silence over sound, sound over song. 

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Albums for Life: 23: Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates

She was pregnant in May
Now they're on their way
Dashing through the snow
To St. John's, here we go
Well, it could be a boy
But it's okay if he's girl
Oh, these things that grow out of
The things that we give
We should move to the west side
They still believe in things
That give a kid half a chance
When he pulled off the road
Step in a waltz of ted moon-beams
Said he fit an APB
A robbery nearby
And he go for his wallet
And they thought he was going for a gun
And the cops blew Bird away
Some kids like watching Saturday cartoons
Some girls listen to records all day in their rooms
But what do birds leave behind, of the wings that they came with
If a son's in a tree building model planes?

Once I'd discovered Tom Waits in the late 70s the world of music seemed to open up to me: the ragged roots of Americana, The Blues, trad' and modern Jazz, Tin Pan balladry. I was also aware of Ms Jones through her connection with Waits, indeed by her shadowy presence on the cover of 'Foreign Affairs'. I'd heard 'Chuck E's in Love' but was unprepared for the dramas that lay within 1981's 'Pirates'. The album was her reaction to the break up with Tom.

Bolstered by winning the Grammy for 'Best New Artist' in 1980 she moved to New York City and set up home with Sal Bernadi who was to become her collaborator on this album which, although she recorded it in North Hollywood, had the influence of the Big Apple all over it. Broadway, bebop, R&B, straight pop; the range of influences from Bernstein to Springsteen made for an exotic pot pourri, the cast of colourful characters (c*nt finger Louie anyone?) giving the whole thing an almost cinematic quality. Nick DeCaro's orchestrations are centre stage to the proceedings, adding drama and romance; the rhythm sections strut and stutter in their various guises as Chuck Rainey's bass playing is brilliantly underpinned by drumming heavyweights Steve Gadd, Art Rodriguez and Victor Feldman. David Sandborn and Randy Brecker add horns to the glorious soup whilst Steely Dan's Becker and Fagen seem to haunt the grooves but never in that cold and clinical Dan detached way; the playing is top notch throughout but never overpowers the wonderful songs. 
There were but eight. Count 'em:

'We Belong Together' was a direct lament to Wait's loss. 
'Living it Up' features 'Zero' a victim of teenage domestic violence.
'Skeletons' is based on the true story of mistaken identity; a man killed by LS police whilst taking his pregnant wife to the hospital.
'Wood and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking': a tribute to 1950s R&B icons.
'Pirates' is another ode to Waits.
'A Lucky Guy': More Wait's wailing: "he's a lucky guy. He doesn't worry about me when I'm gone."
'Traces of the Western Slopes': an 8 minute paean to bohemian life.
'The Returns' sees the album out with a gentle piano ballad.

In the early 80s this was the most sophisticated music I owned; it made me want to be elsewhere. 
I wasn't sure where that was but knew that I'd be traveling there in a striped t shirt, a beret and that the air would be thick with the smoke of clove cigarettes.

Whenever I compose these things I like to immerse myself in the album I'm writing about. 
I couldn't find 'Pirates' this morning so accessed the tracks from a fantastic 3 CD compilation 
'Duchess of Coolsville' which I heartily recommend; great notes, songs presented alphabetically as it skips effortlessly between the decades, proving how timelessly contemporary and consistently challenging the woman's work is. 
You can buy 'Duchess of Coolsville' here.
If you'd prefer 'Pirates' as an entity you can get it here as part of Rhino's 'Album Series'; a no frills pack of 5 original albums for just over a tenner.
Meanwhile, here are the first 3 tracks from 'Pirates'. 
Once you start I'd be surprised if you don't finish the selections. 
I've followed Rickie Lee's version of 'Skeletons' with a take by an anonymous short tongued gent which is stunning in its heartbreaking simplicity...