Friday, 23 December 2016

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

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

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

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

1. Chaim Tannenbaum – Chaim Tannenbaum

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

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

3. Andy Shauf – The Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49. Itasca – Open to Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 9 December 2016

John Lennon: It Was 36 Years Ago Today

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

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

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

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Trouble with Howe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Le Mercury

Le Mercury

On Upper Street they stand
Hand over hand
One Dapper Dan
One also ran
He is beautiful
She is hopeful
Wishing she were bolder
He looks over her shoulder
Does Dapper Dan
And, only ‘cause he knows he can
He dismisses her hopes
With a kiss
She rounds on him snarling
Spitting sorrow
But as she draws back her trembling lips
He takes her folded fist
Moulds it to a hand
And holds it to his heart
They wait for a beat

And dance

Monday, 24 October 2016

Sight Failing: Aim Still True

“It’s over now, the water and the wine … 
I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine.”
I wrote this upon release of Leonard's latest and last release.
There'll be a host of stuff written.
Why add to it?
Leonard gifted us a warm farewell embrace and, like a homeward dove, eyes soft with sorrow, with a tip of the hat, he left the room.
We should laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all day long.
And then we should return to his words and music.
And then?
We should raise a glass to the few who forgive what we do and... go back to the world.

Leonard Cohen: You Want it Darker

I'm hearing criticism of this; folk saying that Leonard is no longer vital, sharp tongued; that the poet's pen is blunt. Folk expecting 'Hallelujahs' and disappointed by a simple 'thank you'...
It's a bit like ordering Sherpa Tenzing 'once more back up the mountain please.' Ambition is fine but there are some heights that you can only hit once. Anything beyond is a peak out of reach and the hopeful grasping can become flailing affectation, parody or parade. Some summits are beyond most of us; some journeys can only be taken by those with a golden ticket.
Everyone expects different miracles from their heroes and expectation doesn't always equate to delivery. You wanted loaves and fish? You get red red wine... Oy vey!
I hear the sound of a conflicted man pulling a blanket (or shawl) closer to chin, dissing and dismissing his Lord yet counting on his presence, and counting his blessings... still cursed by memories of lost lovers and possibility. Skeptical but still spiritually inquisitive, worldly enough to recall the earthly pleasures, still keen enough to remember the hurt.'Disappointment' is a station that we're all bound for. That we journey with dignity is the unspoken rule of travel; one rule that most of us are bound to break. Bitterness and disappointment stamps our golden ticket so indelibly that we can barely be bothered to decipher its value.
Leonard reminds us that death isn't defeat, it's a destination that we all wish to arrive at dapper and undisappointed.
Is that a word?
I hope so.
It would befit any gravestone.
And will he be met at the station?
The Maker and this holy, conflicted man: that'd be a challenging chat for both..

"A million candles burning for the help that never came... 
I'm ready my Lord... You want it darker? Let's kill the flame."

Adam has certainly captured his father's rich, faltering voice beautifully. Unadorned, unfettered from the now unneeded support of woman. Perhaps this suggests relief at desire's decline. He's travelling light; resigned to going it alone. There's a treacly lustre to the luxuriant production: perhaps a son's desire to ensure that the father's travelling clothes fit and befit. And yet this is no cosy impotent decline; "I'm angry and I'm tired all the time... the poison enters into everything". But whilst Leonard's understandably tired and tetchy, with once perfect vision dulled and dimmed, this is the wondrous sound of a wise man clinging to dear life, not raging, but going as gently as possible, with grace and dignity; surely eyeing the destination but still absorbed by the journey.

Friday, 14 October 2016

The Hat Club: November 26th: Boo Hewerdine and Dan Whitehouse

The Hat Club: November 26th.
Boo Hewerdine and Dan Whitehouse.
I believe they call this 'a double header'.
Flip the coin and both sides come up 'heads'.
You cannot lose.
It'll be the end of their lengthy tour so they should know the words, all of the right notes and play them mostly in the right order...
Advance orders help.
Guests are welcome.
Last Hat Club of 2016.
The best tenner you'll spend this year.
Come see the paradise...

Sunday, 2 October 2016

In Cassidy's Care: 10: The Last Chapter: This Sunday

10. This Sunday

He pursed his lips and the word came forth.
“Pops”, whispered Cassidy.
He gave a strangled, euphoric yelp and then he laughed out, long and loud, clapping his hands at the recognition.
‘Red Pops’. That was it, the name of his blue tailed kite.
Christ, the banality; his very own ‘Rosebud’ moment.
He loved Citizen Kane; and Orson Wells; what a man; all of that early promise; and, and jeez… Red Pops…
Both Daniel and Archie were looking up at him quizzically, and he in turn squinted up into the blue and breathed in deeply; he loved the parks of North London in early springtime.
Up there with the jousting kites, a confusion of gulls stalked the skies, noisily claiming territory. Cassidy craned his neck and watched as one bird caught another by the wing. After an initial fitful fluttering, their bodies stiffened and froze, perhaps out of fear, or perhaps in dazed deference to the gravity of the unfamiliar moment, a moment that lasted fully twenty seconds, as they looped and twirled in silent dance, a feathery boomerang skimming the sky, before better nature caused them to release and break their arcing descent. The two gulls, seemingly chastened, flew briefly in stunned formation before resuming their raucous rivalry.
Jeeezus, did you see that boys?”
“Mom says that you shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”
“She’s quite right Daniel. I am sorry, but… did you see that?
And she says that God loves me and Archie more than almost anyone” Cassidy let that one slide. His boys were due some special attention. In four days time they’d be in Massachusetts, scattering their Grandpa’s ashes into the bay. He wanted them to believe that there was purpose to that particular parade. He’d spoken to his mother the night before. She was rock solid.
“I’m staying put. Why wouldn’t I? The beach house is my home. Your dad always jokes about it being built on sand but… don’t fret about me Pickle.”
She hadn’t called him that in years.
“I’ve always taken care of myself while you boys were off doing your things. Besides tending to your dad’s shrubs there won’t be too much to adjust to. Still be talking to myself, there’ll just be more potatoes left over is all…”
Cassidy saw then what he’d known all along: he wanted to go home. Back to the Cape, back to the beach house, back to what he was before he wanted to be something else. What prevented his return was that which he loved the most. His sons needed their mother and she was bound to London. And although Amelia might be beyond capers, clowns and Cassidy, she sure as hell needed his benefits: school fees were waived for all faculty kids. That would keep him here for the next ten years at least. He felt sick, dizzy with resentment; he’d be in his mid fifties before he would be free to return home to live, to abide. By that time Annie might have followed Harry and the beach house could have fallen into the sea…
Cassidy rubbed his brow and stumbled, there was a rushing cacophony, a crescendo as blood seemed to flood his brain, what sounded like the snapping of a twig and then just a staggering, bright silence. Cassidy worked his jaw, shook his head, tried to make his ears pop, but the silence remained. He looked to the sky again, beyond the squabbling birds, beyond the carnival of kites, out beyond the blue and, with a jolt, Cassidy saw. He saw that there was much to be held and nothing to be kept. He felt unburdened; an abrupt sense of liberation and release; suddenly everything seemed clear. Cassidy shook his head in wonder; this was his morning for epiphanies.
The noises of the park gradually returned to him and he tested the air.
The obsession’s in the chasing and not the apprehending”, he quietly sang.
Tom Waits.
He loved Tom Waits.
His eyes stung and his throat ached. Cassidy paused, a hand on each son’s shoulder. He softly squeezed, and then gently pushed the boys into the breeze, towards the football pitch. A group of kids were clapping and noisily cheering Johnny, their maverick coach, who balanced a ball on his head like a performing seal.
You should throw that man a fish.
The young brothers turned back towards their father, both gave a puzzled shrug, rolled their eyes and sighed in unison “a fish?”
Cassidy swallowed hard.
“See you guys in a couple of hours. Love you both”
And don’t take any shit from that Johnny, he thought.
“Dad”, howled Archie, “you did it again.”
Life, thought Cassidy, placing a cautionary hand over his mouth, is fucking killing me.

He returned the boys to Amelia bang on time. He even got a wave and a smile from the doorway seven steps up. From Bayswater he stepped with a spring, up through Hyde Park to Marble Arch and then along Oxford Street. At Oxford Circus he turned north up Regents Street and entered Regents Park at its southern end. Without thinking he broke into a steady jog. He passed the boating lake and the bandstand and at the northern edge he turned east on the outer circle until he reached the zoo. He then turned north towards the southern slopes of Primrose Hill, following the now familiar path to the brow of the hill. As he surged up the slope Cassidy was giddy with hope; though still steeped in sadness, for the first time in an age he felt that he was running towards something. An elderly man feeding fish and chips to a scruffy mongrel occupied the bench. As Cassidy approached he recognized the slippers on the man’s feet.
“Monty, what are you doing here? Fancy the chances…”
‘Ah Pete, how are you doing old boy. Not such a coincidence really; you’ve rattled on about this bench so many times that I thought I’d come and see what all the fuss was about. It’s quite a setting.” Monty nodded southward “What a city?
Cassidy stretched and eyed the view. “How’s the healing Monty?”
“Oh, fine, fine, though gently does it; weeping wounds… As you can see I’ve become more discerning about the company I keep.” He patted the dog. “My new best friend. I’ve decided to call him Claude.”
“To protect you from his namesake?”
“No, that particular son of a bitch is long gone. I decided that I needed some reliable company; I took at trip down to the dog’s home in Battersea. I never could resist a pathetic stray. Our eyes met and I think that we both recognized a kindred spirit. He’s a good egg. We’re well suited; we’ll stop each other from wandering.
“Speaking of which,” said Cassidy jogging on the spot “I’ve got to keep moving or I’ll seize up. See you back at the ranch Monty.”
“Indeed. Cheerio old boy.”
Cassidy patted Claude, helped himself to a chip from the greasy paper bag and then turned back down the slope, exiting the park at Elsworthy Terrace. Picking up the pace he crossed the Finchley Road at Swiss Cottage and was soon at the front door of his apartment block in West Hampstead.

He entered the communal doorway and slid his key into the door of his flat. Before he had the chance to turn the key the door swung open on fractured hinges.
Turmoil; upended furniture, broken glass, scattered papers, an aroma of stale sweat, the rustle of material, a shadowy movement, a punch to the ribs. He didn’t feel much; a stinging pain as the knife entered his side, then just a dull ache that he knew to be deliverance. He dropped to his knees and gently lowered himself onto the carpet face down. His eyes watered and he blinked away the tears. From his supine position his vision was limited and darkening with every shortening breath. That run had taken it out of him. He needed to breathe deeply to control his gasping. He tried humming, that would calm him. He blinked again and focused on ‘The Cassidys’, he and his brothers standing with Harry after that final gig. The photograph lay skew on the floor with the glass and frame shattered. Next to the picture were broken pieces of terra cotta pot and damp earth. His cactus lay flaccid, like a fish out of water. Or a limp dick thought Cassidy. Was that irony or symbolism, metaphor or simile? That was one for Archie’s next breakfast question time.
He could hear movement but couldn’t raise his head.
What a weird and wonderful week, he thought.
“Say what? What’s that? Say something?”
Cassidy recognized the lisp.
“Want some more, bitch?”
Claude knelt beside him and rifled his pockets roughly.
Cassidy stared at a Rolex with a crocodile strap; Monty’s watch on Claude’s wrist. He fixed on the frozen second hand as it twitched and pulsed with every second, ineffectively pushing against an unseen resistance, and he found himself breathing in time with that retarded tick. He needed to do something but couldn’t think what that might be. He’d just lie there a little longer until he felt… less tired.
As his breath shortened Cassidy was overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of calm. And he was filled with love; he loved his parents, his brothers, Daniel and Archie, Monty, Christ, he even loved Claude. The whole wide world was in his arms and it was no burden because Cassidy cared. He started humming again, and only then did he recognize the tune.
He loved Joni Mitchell.
His fingertips caressed the carpet and he felt himself sink deeper.
“Amelia, it was just a false alarm”
The carpet rose to meet him.
“Amelia, it was just a false alarm”
The carpet absorbed him.
“Amelia, it was just a false alarm”
He stared in wonder as the detailed patterns merged into a glorious golden brown.
Cassidy closed his eyes and she turned towards him.
He saw sun splashed pigtails and the grain of her hair, all burnt copper and straw.
She simply said “Hello handsome” and that was that.


“What’s that son?”
Harry leant closer this time.
Cassidy could smell Old Spice and modeling glue.
“Nothing Pops, just… thinking out loud.”
His mother’s voice sang out from within the beach house, “Suppers nearly ready you two. Up to the table in five minutes.”
Cassidy squinted and fixed on his cactus, searching for a word. 
Harry reached down and gently slid the turquoise pot out of their creeping shadow and into the softening light.
“Some things can’t be fixed Pete, some things are beyond repair, but it’s good that you care son; there can be a blessing to burden.” He rubbed his forehead and then rocked back into his chair, crossing his heavy hands against his chest as if nursing an injured bird.
Cassidy did the self same thing.
There was much that he needed to let go of, but not this.
He needed to hold this close, and wondered if he would.
The sun was sinking over the salt marshes and a bourbon sky gently backlit his father, ancient and immortal.
He looked into that steady eye, then down at his own shaking, outsized hands, and Cassidy realized, with some relief, that his fate was sealed.

                                      *** Fin ***


We are all connected
By our unravellings
But don’t always feel the tug
The line might tighten
Leave a mark
Draw blood even
Then relax and
All will seem normal again

It’s sorrow’s way
A gentle rise and fall
Towards oblivion
We mark the journey
And then leave without a destination
The rest is hazard
With joyful detours and interludes
Still, the path remains sorrow’s way