Monday, 31 January 2011

Gong - Expresso II

Another tangent

In the self-fulfilling journey this blog is I am enjoying the travels that take me along linking routes and in and out of the shadows of my own walking where I can then cast new ones for exploration.

From vocal exponents to Sonja Kristina to Curved Air to Darryl Way, by way of explanation, and I arrived at Gong's 'Expresso II' with its percussive jazz-fusion that's superbly done - but tonight nestled neatly into a background ambiance - until the tracks 'Sleepy' and 'Boring' [comically ironic] because DW plays violin on both and that's when the album stepped out of its shade for this listener although that is precisely what I was listening for.

Allan Holdsworth plays some wild guitar on the 'Sleepy' track which is first soothed by Way's classical strains and then merged with a similar wailing.

The Coral - Butterfly House


Today is my 35th wedding anniversary, with the theme of coral, and so she has given me this album as a gift with its clear influences from Simon & Garfunkel, The Association, and The Byrds so the music too signals this amazing span of years and all the memories of that time.

Sonja Kristina - Cri De Coeur

Curved vocal

I've got myself trapped in this vocal focus, not that I'm desperate to escape, especially if it allows me a quick opportunity to write about Sonja Kristina and in doing so present her iconic 'feathers' photo.

Stunning singer with the great Curved Air, Sonja has over the years performed solo and recorded occasionally along this and more experimental lines. I got an amazon download of this album last night on the back of some idle research into Curved Air who I will want to write about at a latter stage. I was lucky enough to see them at a 'reformed' gig in South Devon at the Malborough Village Hall in 2008 where Sonia proved she retains one of the most distinctive female rock vocals of all time.

This album sparked my current interest because it too has a clutch of standards, for example 'Every Time We Say Goodbye' and 'Cry Me a River', and suffice to say she makes them her own and her own will always be good enough for me. Being absolutely honest, 'good enough' sums it up and I look forward to exploring more recent recordings, but the other honesty will be acknowledging how it is her Curved Air days that will always leave the most astonishing aural stamp on my reverential memory.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Terry Callier - What Color Is Love?

Vocal color

I've been listening to and writing about vocalists over the last few days so I've been continuing this Sunday to dip in and out of what I have or can get a listen to in this vocal bag of goodies. However, I made the mistake of grabbing for Rod Stewart's latest - which I will need to qualify once I have explained the hurt to my aural hand. This unlucky dip was into his new greatest hits classic American songbook album - just released, apparently, in time for Valentine's Day. It's a dreadful album and I think there are five eight-years-in-the-making from which this the best of has culled its collection so the chaff must be appalling. My qualification is, not surprisingly, I regard Rod Stewart as one of the great vocalists. I clearly refer to his earliest R&B days, time with Jeff Beck, with the Faces, and much of his solo career. I even liked much of his 'Soulbook' collection. Just listen to live recordings and 'The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998'. He's brilliant. But don't listen to this Valentine vomitorium.

What's Terry Callier got to do with this? What color are his vocals? The answer to the first question is I simply wanted something to listen to that reminded me of a distinctive vocal and his was to hand. It's a laid-back and sweetly smooth representation of its time. Not a silly songbook standard in sight. The answer to the second question must be blue because that's all she can see even looking the other way.

East of Eden - Mercator Projected

Bass lines in stereo

I did go back to this album having listened to 'Snafu'. The one track I want to mention isn't the 'Wowie Zowie....' selected 'Communion' but rather 'Centaur Woman' which starts as a simple rock-blues with naive harmonica and then turns respectably jazzy with a classic and perfectly played 'walking' bass line. What happens next was, as I listened then, such a nostalgic and pleasant surprise. The bass playing is transported into one of those late 60s/early 70s virtuoso solos you rarely get today - like drum solos that would last for twenty minutes or more giving you time to headbang into a drugless transcendence - and a bass solo augmented with the studio-inspired addition of celebration stereo: you know what I mean, the bass line oscillating between and across the speakers in a frantic channel-switching reverie. Oh those early and glorious days of simple audio experimentation.....

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Crispy Duk - ...A Late Night on Princess Street

Crispy morning

Got my 'Crispy Duk' cd this morning - ordered on the back of Paul Benley's vocals referenced below - and it's another great jazz album with those vocals ably supported by Jeremy Sassoon on Roland keyboard and Dave Walsh on drums.

And it's a crisp, clean and clear recording - apparently done live over two afternoon sessions and that simplicity underpins and highlights the excellence of the musicianship.

There are the standards again, like 'Summertime' [which one site I visit details 309 versions] and it's a sparkling cover, but the band and Bentley also tackle 'What's Going On', 'People Get Ready', 'Spinning Wheel' and 'Ain't No Sunshine' which, with such memorable originals, is a brave challenge that manages to stamp its own fresh seal. It's honest music/performance relying on collective talents without trying to be flash [though on 'Spinning Wheel' there's a flirtation with distortion that appeals to this ol' hippie and they probably just get away with the joke!].

These guys play their superb music in the lucky North West of England but if they ever get this far South to Pastoralworld I'm definitely going to have a great Late Night on Retirement Street.

Friday, 28 January 2011

East of Eden - Snafu

Automotive awe

There's a linguistic limit to variations on titles for 'listening to music in the car': I've already used car, vehicular and now automotive so I'm up against the door now; there's transportation and the notion of being transported psychologically by awe, but I've just opened and shut that door in one semantic move.

I played East of Eden's 'Snafu' today and this is a better example of 'jazz rock' than Chicago or Blood Sweat & Tears referenced in the previous post. Not sure that it matters, but East of Eden, like Soft Machine, played more wholly instrumental jazz with solos and it certainly isn't the orchestrated jazz of C or BS&T. That's all.

'Snafu' is a great album. It's another one I pulled off the shelf quickly having not listened for quite a while but knowing it would trigger memories. Then I realised a slight error: my introduction to East of Eden wasn't this album, but their first 'Mercator Projected' and the track 'Communion' which was on the Decca sampler 'Wowie Zowie The World of Progressive Music' again referenced much earlier in this blog.

It's another avenue. I thought after the Chicago post I might take an aural stroll along to If - an English and positive example of that genre, whatever it is to be called - but now East of Eden might lead me to Soft Machine. We'll see. I really should saunter over to 'Mercato Projected'.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Chicago Transit Authority - Same

Chicago's authority

Now listening to a great FM recording of a great Chicago live gig from 1977 in Uniondale, New York. And there are obviously performances from their first brilliant album: 'Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?'; 'Beginnings'; 'Questions 67 and 68', and their funky version of Winwood's pounding 'I'm A Man'.

Chicago vs Blood Sweat & Tears. There's no contest: they're both brilliant and spawned a generation of jazz rock, some that palled by comparison, and much that added positively to the genre.

Forget the later more commercial Chicago - which isn't all bad; in fact not bad at all. But the early albums, double discs, merged rock and jazz-band orchestration superbly, and these guys could play. There was also a political edge to the first album that, coupled with the mad psychedelia of 'Free Form Guitar', made an impression on an impressionable teenage aural sponge, so this album will always retain its significance - but it does so musically without any question.

OK, as I was writing that last line, 'If You Leave Me Now' has just started and this detracts from those heady early days of rock and revolution, but rich tapestry and other eclectic sensibilities try to accommodate.....

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Paul Bentley - Come Sunday


Having written about Kurt Elling and spent some time revisiting his jazz vocals I also returned to another jazz vocalist who I've listened to frequently - surprising [not because of quality] but because of the range of music I have and the fact I wouldn't normally place 'traditional' jazz vocal at the top of my listening list. But it clearly is.

Paul's from Liverpool and I first heard of him when seeing his performance at one of the superb free lunchtime concerts run by the Manchester Jazz Festival in St Anne's Square. This was in the summer of 2006. He's a big guy with big vocals and it was simply an excellent set. The kind of lively and genuine and infectious love-of-the-music set that makes an immediate impact.

I bought his solo album 'Come Sunday' and it has an unplugged presentation that centres Benley's vocals where they'd naturally push to in a crowd - and that crowd being silenced just to authenticate the metaphor. With piano by Les Chisnell and the occasional clarinet of Iain Dixon, standards like 'Let's Fall in Love', 'My Foolish Heart' and 'The Shadow of Your Smile' allow Bentley's crisp vocals to complement the classic songwriting. There's a sweet version of James Taylor's 'You Can Close Your Eyes' and I'd like to hear more of Bentley covering a wider range [having this standards collection under his belt].

I have for the past 3/4 years searched for further recordings, for example an expected big band album, but with no luck. Looking today, his personal website seems to have disappeared. From other site information he appears to gig regularly in the Merseyside and Manchester areas - weddings and corporate entertainment; club sessions - but not the recording production I had hoped for. I did today discover and send for the jazz band Crispy Duc cd on which he takes lead vocal. I also discovered Paul has played or still plays with The Paul Bentley Five and The Paul Bentley Swing Band. But not much more in terms of information. Perhaps this is the reality of the jobbing artist whose talent could in my estimation stand comfortably with someone like Elling but life and listening have their labyrinthine routes.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Kurt Elling - Flirting With Twilight

Orange blossom

I like those aural surprises, musically speaking. It's brilliant when you 'discover' an artist/band/song by chance when listening to the radio or however it hits you. I've picked up on a variety of classical pieces by having Classic FM on in the background. A while back when listening to Jazz FM Kurt Elling's 'Orange Blossom in Summertime' stopped me in my hearing tracks. Having missed who was singing I sought out the playlist and was introduced to Elling for the first time and I ordered his cd 'Flirting With Twilight' - and subsequently all of his other recordings - just for this track. Couldn't wait. Wasn't disappointed. Always delighted.

I'm no expert on jazz vocal or jazz more widely but know what I like. Elling's known for his 'scat-singing' and 'vocalese' and I like this when I hear it but I think he is just more conventionally a superb singer. He has a full range and at the top, which is high, it is beautiful, but lower down it isn't - by that I mean there is a roughness and at times even a raw sound that is authentic, though I'm not wholly sure what I mean by that! It's not 'pretty' or smooth, though it can be the latter when required. That's the oher range.

The song 'Orange Blossom in Summertime' is an amalgam of the original 'Orange Blossom' by Curtis Lundy with lyrics added by Elling. On the original, Lundy plays bass and Bobby Watson is on sax on their album 'Beatitudes', and the beautiful melodic line is picked up and made even more wonderful in Elling's version and delivery.

Black Eyed Peas - Behind the Front

Black Eyed Superbowl

Just heard that Black Eyed Peas will be providing the half-time musical entertainment at this year's NFL Superbowl [when I will be supporting the Green Bay Packers against the Pittsburg Steelers, though as I like both teams I can live with either win; whatever, it will be a night of bourbon and 5-meat pizza, so what's to lose?].

I guess both Black Eyed Peas and the NFL Superbowl are ripe for critical observation: those who think the pop sensibilities of BEP have usurped their rap roots, and those who don't rate American football as a sport. I can live with the former thinking as I don't care enough to care, but the latter is simply stupid.

Watching the divisional play-offs on Sky, the announcement of this musical interlude triggered memories of seeing Black Eyed Peas supporting Macy Gray probably in 2000 somewhere on the south coast in a place beginning with P. I couldn't find an exact reference on the net. BEP were new to me and most others there I suspect but it was cool to see 'real' rap/hip hop for someone who clearly hadn't up to that point. I bought their cd and enjoyed it then but listening today it didn't have the same effect - my middle-aged, middle-class, white-guy flirting with rap/hip hop having waned [but why not listen, by the way: I can listen to and enjoy punk, but I wasn't; the same with other genres that I don't want to explore here having made the point I trust; and I should perhaps at some point in this blog write about my favourite hip hop album, Mos Def's 'Black on Both Sides'].

Back to BEP - not sure about their current 'The Beginning'. I've read caustic and satirical reviews that rightly pick up on it's ring-tone tunes and sampling saturation. Just listening to tracks now from the album it's easy to be entertained but I'm not convinced there's longevity beyond that incipient and compulsive move to the beats and cuckoo catch of the clever melodies [which are not originals].

In a Superbowl that has for the last decade at least become a national celebration of patriotic fervour as much as football - if not more I'm sure for many - I wonder if BEP will get away with performing 'Play It Loud' with its opening lyrics

I pledge my allegiance,
To rhythm and sound.
Music is my medicine,
Let the rhythm pound

because this would be contrary to the Tea Party mentality of much of the entertainment and sentiment and focus [just wait for that immaculately-timed jet fly-by at the precise point the last warbling notes of the National Anthem are sung]. Those lyrics, by the way, strike me as a perfectly sound manifesto for living, as I trust this blog attests to, readership or no!

Joan As Police Woman - The Deep Field

White Ghost

Released today and it is a superb album, her most coherent and certainly a consistently fuller sound across all tracks. As other reviewers have noted, it is soulful and funky and my view is there's less of the 'solo' sound heard on her other work. It is therefore more commercial too and that's fine.

I have posted below 'The Ride' which will always be my favourite - it has that 'solo' sound and the melody and harmony of earlier work which rather than just preference, though that is an element, reminds me of first hearing her which is always a significant moment with an artist you grow to rate - and this album has certainly moved away from this for most tracks.

There are plenty of reviews out there so I'm not going to say much more. I'm listening again now and still enjoying and hearing those nuances from these aural additions. The track playing as I write is 'Forever and a Year' and that has the most direct link to a song like 'The Ride' and thus I love it. Beautiful. A distinctive voice at a time when there are plenty of excellent female but cloned vocals out there. 'Run For Love' has a rousing end, and both 'Flash' and 'Human Condition' have the ghost of Bary White within them! Have a listen to see if you can hear his haunting.

Joan As Police Woman - The Ride

Sunday, 23 January 2011

some diurnal awe

some diurnal aural awe
diurnal awe some aural
aural awe some diurnal
awe some diurnal aural
diurnal some aural awe
aural diurnal some awe
some diurnal awe aural
awe diurnal some aural
diurnal aural some awe
aural some diurnal awe
awe aural some diurnal
some diurnal aural awe

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Looking for Bella

Again, in anticipation of another release, see below for a track from Teddy Thompson's forthcoming album 'Bella'.

Teddy Thompson "Looking For A Girl" Live on Soundcheck

Group 1850 -The Great Single Tracks

Group breakfast

This morning's listening, a psychedelic Dutch band from the late 60s/early 70s who are oft compared with Pink Floyd, The Mothers of Invention, and I can hear Beefheart, but if you are producing this kind of music at that time how would you not hear these influences/parallels? I say 'parallels' because although clearly not as well known as the others mentioned, they are a distinctive and important group. 'The Great Single Tracks' is, I believe, a collection from 1967-68, and is accessible and representative. 'Agremo's Trip to Mother Earth' is a more wholly psychedelic album, and I have other live and scattered tracks here and there that push listening tolerance, but always an engaging push and very often with superb guitar solos and other psychedelic musical paraphernalia.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Rolling Stones - Voodoo Lounge

Vehicular voodoo

Today's vehicular aural experience was the above. Can't go wrong really, though I'm sure there are hardcores out there who wouldn't rate anything after a certain album/period, whatever that might be. I'm not sure I ever get that worked up about things like this, unless subsequent work for whoever is obviously obnoxious. I think 'Voodoo Lounge' has so many reflections of what the Stones do best - both riffing it out or ballads, even those ballads aping back to the earliest days - but I also have to relate it to seeing them at Wembley in '95, taking the family, and, of course - protraction on the bragging for maximum effect, hopefully - the VIP invitation parking and entrance [forget what it says on the ticket - we went through the front door like The Black Crowes] so that we got into the stadium before anyone else in order to select our seats.

It's a long story.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Mother's Finest - Same [1973]

Free love

In compiling a Stephen Stills tandem covers collection - 'Love the One You're With' and 'For What It's Worth' - I returned to this album for their excellent version of 'LTOYW', though it occurred to me that this is such an exuberant song it would be difficult to produce a duff copy. Listening to the whole album now it is obvious to me how the performances spread that exuberance across all the funky tracks and the group is perhaps best remembered/reverenced for its stonking live performances, though I have only heard these on recordings.

At some stage I will write about Stills but probably also the rest of the CSN&Y 'scared shitless' crew both as a whole and individually [and I've already referenced Young in this blog]. I also listened to the Stills compilation today and 'Love the One You're With' does have an infectious upbeat ethos, even if the philosophical maxim is taking carpe diem to a lively max!

Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life


Playing now as I get a final morning aural buzz before tackling some exam marking.

Like the previous post - but for entirely different reasons - there's no need to say much. Wall-to-wall joyous musical experience.

Roomful of Blues - Hook, Line & Sinker

Gone fishin'

Hell, just for the cover!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Henrick Gorecki - Symphony No 3, Op. 36, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

Melodious Sorrow

In a previous post I referred to my liking for 'pretty' classical music. That is clearly an inadequate term, because applied here it is at stark odds with the content and mood of the music, though it is relevant in that the melodic line is beautiful even if pathetically so. By this I mean of course the pathos it generates, and the 'prettiness' is in the harmonious nature of the melody, whether orchestral or in the soprano voice that repeats it.

I have researched various interpretations of the content and as Gorecki himself has never definitively declared its meaning one has to rely on these. But that content of parent and sibling loss and most likely the second world war context add a melancholic base to the sound itself. It is beautifully moving.

I am no expert. Is the simple melodic line a key feature of 20th century classical music? Repetition and a stepping-up of tone and volume and maybe even pace seem to be other fundamental elements. Perhaps that is why I like so much two other extremely popular pieces, in this case both made familiar as scores in films: Samuel Barber's 'Adagio for Strings' and Ennio Morriconi's 'Once Upon a Time in America'. There are obviously significant differences between these, not least in their origins, but they share the simplicity of a singular strong melodic line and a repetition of that.

There is a pathos in all three of these. A line I like to often use is 'Happiness is painted white'. I can't find it in research being attributed to anyone in particular and I feel I have heard it from someone else but I am keen enough to take credit for its creation. The meaning is clear enough to me: in most art, the more dramatic or painful or haunted or surreal or anything that isn't simply happy and content, the more emotive it will necessarily be. White is bland. These three classical pieces walk then a tightrope on this rather inelegant attempt at definitions because on the one hand they too have their simple [though not bland] melodies, but on the other have the power to genuinely and dramatically and memorably move the listener.

Shalamar - Friends

Travellin' Man

Another journey this afternoon; another album listened to. 'Friends' is a favourite track but I tend to forget how many other brilliant funky and fun songs are on this album. Superb car music.

This afternoon's trip was a vinyl run, and the eclectic small haul was:

Al Stewart - Orange
Kiss - Dressed to Kill [for my daughter]
Marc Bolan & T Rex - Across the Air Waves
The Beatles - Help! [1965 Parlophone mono 1st pressing, so very pleased]

Supertramp - Indelibly Stamped

Incredibly indelibly

Listening to 'The Best of Supertramp' in the car today and they genuinely have a core of memorable, classic songs. It's down to the songwriting, obviously, the musicianship indisputably, and the voice of Roger Hodgson, which one could reasonably ponder on how it would have panned out historically in another musical context because it is unique rather than conventionally distinctive.

I saw them probably in 1975 at the Gaumont in Ipswich on their 'Crisis, What Crisis?' album tour and I say 'probably' because I thought it was earlier but internet research suggests different! Two interesting factors: first, I will have gone on the back of my love for their second and still favourite album 'Indelibly Stamped', the only one I had at that time and which doesn't fuel a 'Best Of' selection now but has on it great rockers like 'Your Poppa Don't Mind' and 'Potter' as well as beautiful plaintive songs like 'Rosie Had Everything Planned'; and second, because I thought Joan Armatrading was a new rock band [come on, 'Armatrading' sounds like something heavy, though 'Joan' is, I confess, a clue...!]. JA was brilliant by the way and I went out and bought her first album, and Supertramp presented a more prog-rock/jazzy set than the 'IS' album had suggested. My vinyl copy, incidentally, still has the hand-written price label at £2.30.

Jeff Finlin - The Tao of Motor Oil

Finlin's Way

I've liked Jeff Finlin ever since seeing him live supporting Steve Earle on the latter's 2003 Great Britain tour. He's a consummate story teller, evocative narratives sung in Finlin's distinctive vocals to guitar or piano melodies that grow in familiarity and meaning across listenings.

'East by West'

We got sage flats and kisses
Farm machinery
Sweat and work and blisses
Beyond our wild belief

We've got Kundalini kryas
Yodeling from within
East of where we're going
West of where we've been

We got dogs and tea a-brewing
From far across the sea
You can taste the hands of China girls
And the dreams that they release

We got sentimental hygiene
Children by the score
And the flowers dot the minefields
As the world it cries for more

Yes the garden it is growing
and our joy it has no end
East of where we're going
West of where we've been

Now there's a love as deep as an ocean
It's blue as western sky
And the wild wind there it keeps a-blowin'
Yes it's connecting you and I

We got a driving wheel come summer
No need to walk the line
And delusion it collapses
Beyond the thought of time

My heart it is exploding
And I carry it in my hand
East of where we're going
West of where we've been

Monday, 17 January 2011

Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi

Another reality

In referring recently to Ellen Mcilwaine as a great female singer/guitarist, here's another in that important lineage. I read about here in this week's Observer and it is worth checking out videos of her performing on YouTube. She has a powerful voice, and her guitar playing reminds me a little of Jeff Buckley in the way we always try to find precursors and influences and tags. The video of her instrumental version of Leonard Cohen's 'Joan of Arc' is superb: see post below.

Anna Calvi Attic Sessions 4 - Joan Of Arc

Sly & the Family Stone - There's a Riot Goin' On

Cooker affair

Travelling around to look for a new cooker is hardly exciting, so listening to this album in the car, and especially the track 'Family Affair', made it more funky than it could otherwise have been, though the funk comes from the other songs really.

Alas, no funky cookers on display.

Imagine those of us who discovered Sly & the Family Stone late but by watching the 'Woodstock' film. What an amazing performance! 'Higher' is a better word here than 'awe' - just different routes to the same destination....

Johnny Winter - Woodstock Revival, Park Meadows Racetrack, Shirley, NY, 8th September 1979

Winter breakfast

What a way to wake up in the morning!

All the tracks you'd expect like 'Johnny B Goode', 'Rollin' and Tumblin'', 'Jumping Jack Flash' and 'Bonie Moronie'.

Great treat to see him last year. Aged 66, he was frail and more than for those years. The rock life lived to the full. He played on auto-pilot in many ways, but with so many guitar miles under his belt, it was still more memorable and significant than any other player. You can't strip away the history. The virtuosity was obviously affected a little, and there was no growling talk, but when you are that brilliant the brilliance doesn't disappear. 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl' was stunning.

'A little more slide - here's one from the old days......'

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Ellen Mcilwaine - The Real Ellen Mcilwaine

The real deal

She is a stunning musician - singer and guitarist - and I first heard her in the psychedelic/blues rock group Fear Itself and their eponymous album of 1969 [though I discovered this much more recently having missed out at the time]. Apparently they played at Woodstock and she knew Hendrix - how cool is that?

The first four tracks of 'The Real...' sum her up: brilliant guitar, including slide, and the most acrobatic vocals at times, as on the track 'Lazy Day', though its manic mannerisms challenge the listener. I don't know what happens on the third track 'Up The Richmond' but she seems to be altering the tuning throughout the song. Later albums, like 1987's 'Looking For Trouble' have a more jazz, reggae and world music influence [for example the track 'Woodo Woodo Jamin's Australian Song']. She seems to play electric more than acoustic guitar on later recordings. The voice is still amazing.

We all know Janis but how many have heard of Ellen?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean

Clean Kissing

A great title and a great album - the most distinctive I have heard for a while. There are numerous reviews out there to read. I like the range of musical and lyrical narratives, and the opening track is an excellent example of this dual quality.


I've finished digging the garden. Today's final listening was yet another compilation, and an example of my current musical fixation with covers/versions, the song being 'Love Hurts'. Gram Parson's will always be hard to beat, but I think I'm pinning the rosette on Jim Capaldi's almost rock 'n' roll version.

Bring on the frosts [if I haven't missed them all] and then the Spring.

Friday, 14 January 2011

One - One [1969]

One of the first

This is superb and hard to track down. I got my copy somewhere in London at around the time it was released, one of my earliest purchases. I can only imagine I bought a copy - my memory is from a stall - because it was inexpensive and looked interesting. I knew nothing of the band then and very little now. I've read they were session players. Norman Leppard [flute, tenor saxophone] is one player I could find a little about on the net, having performed with Aynsley Retaliation Dunbar on 'Blue Whale', and Conrad Isidore, drums, has an impressive recording cv.

It's a funky album with driving rhythms provided by organ and bass. There are 3 Richie Havens covers. There is brass on the opener 'Don't Listen To Me'. The second track 'Cautiously' is a lifelong favourite, the slowest track with a sustained flute line at a time when flute was cool. It builds and builds, notably with a dissonant spiral of violins. The final track, Richie's 'Run, Shaker Run', is a 17 minute jam and I'm grooving to it now because no one is watching.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Sweet Stavin Chain - Stormy Monday Blues

Highs and lows

Just listening to Sweet Stavin Chain's cover of 'Stormy Monday Blues' and I have discovered that the great sax solo is by King Curtis.

Have been planning another compilation and this will have a worthy place. Saw on another blog from someone with infinitely more knowledge then me a massive compilation of this song. Respect. Another addict. But this wasn't on it!

But talk about oxymoron - the track that follows 'SMB' on this album is 'Teddy Bear's Picnic' with a chipmunk contribution. Absolute crap. Actually, worse than that.


Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Live At Dachau, Friedenskirche, Germany 11-24-2010

It does work and they do it brilliantly live. To corrupt Shakespeare -

Well-seeming form of misshapen chaos

Karl Jenkins - The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace

Classical training

Listening to the radio I just heard 'Benedictus' from this choral and orchestral work, a beautiful short piece with a simple and yet hypnotic melodic line repeated by violin and chorus.

I have always liked 'pretty' classical music, Vaughan Williams my favourite and with his 'Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis' being a colossal element in my listening life. I could move from Hendrix to this in an instant and be blown away by both, and have done so for over 40 years. I know the Williams is a constant play on Classic FM and is easily digestible by the masses, but so is Hendrix on Planet Rock and neither is diminished by its accessibility and/or familiarity.

My earliest listening to classical music occurred alongside that of rock. I dallied with Bartok and Stravinsky to complement my affinity for the experimental, as I did jazz and especially loads of Coltrane from the age of 16. But I soon discovered Williams and collected as much of his as I could then. Imagine my great pleasure this December to discover for the first time his 'Fantasia on Christmas Carols', a pristine vinyl copy for 50p in a charity shop.

In the 5th year at my secondary modern school we had our own little common room and a small group of us musical elite [we thought we were so cool!] would sit and listen to our recent rock and progressive albums on a small record player whilst others listened to their pop music on the radio. I recall Black Sabbath's first and Manfred Mann's Chapter Three blaring out at full volume, our mutual headbanging or still and earnest contemplations of teenage intellectual reverie. I'd bought the Sabbath at Portobello Market in London. I remember first listening to this communally at a friend's house and our all being amazed by its haunting rain and guitar and lyrics - this process of sharing being so important. I also remember getting the House Mistress to play 'Mister You're A Better Man Than I' from that Manfred Mann for an assembly and then her discussing the lyrics for the gathered to ponder on. Wow! I thought she and the House Master [yes, it was a secondary modern, but with pretensions] were old farts, but as I look back, especially as a teacher myself, I realise how understanding, supportive and tolerant they actually were. Their offices were next to our common room and they never told us to turn the music down, and they must have hated it. For example, 'Konekuf' - again from MMCT - with its wailing demented saxophone!

This seems a significant tangent from discussing classical music. It was whilst in that 5th form one of our teachers picked up on our incipient if loud love of music and offered to take us to a school-trip concert in London. We went to the Royal Festival Hall and saw the National Youth Orchestra. They must have played a variety of pieces, but I recall distinctly Respighi's 'Fontane di Roma' which is I believe one of the largest instrumental scores for an orchestra - and it was absolutely fucking amazing - played loud and live - and I knew then that it was all about the quality of the music itself and the playing and the location and the time it was heard and the emotions felt and so on and so on that mattered, not the genre or whether it 'fit' with some perceived group to which you felt you belonged.

I do wish I had realised this before I got rid of my soul albums in those early years thinking my affinity had to be exclusively with heavy rock!

Today's first kick

The Black Keys Live At Morning Becomes Eclectic , KCRW , December 13, 2010

This kicks ass as an ass-kicker would say, 'She's Long Gone' harking back with gusto. Less is more with these guys.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Harvest revisited - Mojo compilation

Young again

These are empathetic interpretations, not straying far at all from the originals [apart from Neville Skelly's 'There's A World'], and are musical homages that remind us how brilliant Neil Young's writing was, not that those of us brought up on his music require any confirmation.

February's Mojo Magazine is packed with Neil Young articles and I've not yet read them all. There is one of those wonderfully contentious '50 Greatest Tracks' spread across 12 pages, culminating in number one being chosen as.............well, I won't say just in case you're reading this and want to read that. It isn't 'Cinnamon Girl' which would be my choice and which I first heard in a friend's flat in Putney, London when Young's album 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' was released, one of the greatest albums recorded, by anyone. 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' would be right up there for me because I can be sentimental and it's beautiful and painfully true, but also 'Cortez the Killer' because Young's killer guitar work needs to be prioritised as well.

Robben Ford - Softly Rolling


Should be listening to this late at night with a warm boost of bourbon, but I'm playing it now because I want to write about that awe you get with artists or individual tracks, and in this case listen to one of those tracks.

'Softly Rolling' is from Ford's album 'Schizophonic' and rather than his guitar playing, I love this track for the sax, played here in that mesmerising loop/echo effect that always gets to me. Shows how much I know: I thought I had better research and find out who is playing the sax, and of course it is Ford himself, apparently having started his musicianship by playing the saxophone before he took up the guitar for which he is probably better known.

Amos Lee - Mission Bell

Familiar but pleasing ring

Doesn't fully resonate, but there are excellent tracks: 'Flower' that steps outside the pattern and has a distictive Soul ring; the Springsteen-inspired 'Out of the Cold', and the two duets, 'Clear Blue Eyes' with Lucinda Williams and 'El Camino Reprise' with Willie Nelson.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Colosseum again?

[see 'Wonderful tangent' post on the 8th Jan]

Looks like I saw Colosseum at the Reading Festival too! Man, I wish I could remember. All those festivals and all those gigs and everything else and the time that has passed. The current generation with its digital memories won't have this problem, but the idea of watching through the screen instead of whatever else doesn't really appeal.

Osibisa - Ojah Awake

Listening to vinyl

Listening to the vinyl copy of this I got recently at an Oxfam shop in Cumbria [see pic of me kneeling in the search - why do they always put vinyl on the bottom shelves for ol' hippies like me?]. They were a fun band and perhaps brought 'world' music to a generation in the early 70s? The title track is wonderful and throughout the whole album there are the familiar funk and jazz elements underpinning their Afro-pop sound.

I saw them at what was the first Reading Festival in 1971. If memory serves they finished the festival on Sunday night. I feel reasonably secure here because I recall being told that we had to be 'quiet' as an audience as there were laws about playing/being noisy after a certain time on a Sunday and the show was running late. We responded by making the most noise possible, everyone being encouraged by Osibisa to yelp and holler and smash together cans or anything else cacophonous and to hand. Superb.

A triumvirate of newish euphoric-when-loud songs

[that's 'newish' when your main listening experience is late 60s/early 70s!]
Blur - 'Song 2'; New Radicals - 'You Get What You Give'; Queens of the Stone Age - 'No One Knows'

Knock yourself out smiling three times in a row!

Eric Steckel - Milestone

Euphoria and/or anger management

Playing loud music loud - and there is a distinction to be made - is a brilliant musical narcotic to either incite you to a greater euphoric high or act as a palliative when the vessels are about to spurt their red.

Having just returned from my walk which is always intentionally a pleasurable experience, I can confirm it was positively heightened by listening to Eric Steckel whose album 'Milestone' was probably my favourite release of 2010, evidenced by the fact it is one of the few folders that has remained on my walkman since put there. What a brilliant young guitarist and singer who has an absolute affinity for the blues. He also has the talent - like Gary Moore and other greats - to hold and ride feed-back.

Another young guitarist who perhaps impressed me most in 2009 was Jimmy Bowskill and his 'Live' album. Euphoria at full volume.

In my latter years as a teacher, there was plenty to enrage me. Often political and/or philosophical - and at national/local/institutional level - I dealt with it in two major ways: the first was to rant to anyone near enough to have to hear as a wonderful catharsis for me but often indiscriminate verbal shrapnel-swipe at them, and the second was to listen very loud to one song in particular [at home rather than at school, and you'll see why] which was Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing in the Name' with the anthemic if hardly articulate 'fuck you I won't do what you tell me'. Listening now very loud as I write - not angry, just reminiscing - and it still drives out its crescendo of curative noise.

As I write this I am also mindful of the very recent shootings in Arizona and the media analysis of the potent power of all language and the potential dangers of violent rhetoric. I believe this song's context as well as the context within which I have placed its usefulness to me separates it from that kind of danger, but I repeat I am mindful that this is a sensitive issue.

Bless the Weather and John

As I write I am listening to cd2 from the deluxe edition of John Martyn's great album 'Solid Air'. This is apparently regarded by many as their favourite. For me it is 'Bless the Weather' and it's a combination of genuinely preferring all the songs there but also seeing him play so many of these live and listening at a time when my emotions were deeply influenced by the songs' sentiments. 'Head and Heart' is my favourite track.

In a previous post I referred to 'Bless the Weather' as my first introduction to John but that's not true. Not a lie, just an over-enthusiastic chronological error. I first heard John Martyn on the 'You Can All Join In' sampler, referenced in the previous post, and it was the track 'Dusty' from his 'The Tumbler' album which I then bought. Although a smooth vocal on this one track, there is a depth that presages, if only slightly, how John's vocal distinctiveness would progress. Hooked, I subsequently purchased both 'The Road to Ruin' and 'Stormbringer' by John and Beverly Martyn.

But it's 'Bless the Weather' that established the awe. Such beautiful songwriting and singing, and of course the guitar work. It was at his first gig I saw when John - using acoustic but with pick-up, amp and PA system - suddenly flicked the Echoplex button/switch and this phenomenal electronic rush of echo and loop and 'phase-shift' [as I've read it called] filled the room and my head exploded in teenage joy and - here it comes again - awe. This was a sound to become more evident on 'Solid Air' and of course throughout later work. 'Inside Out' is the album that signalled the more experimental and jazzy elements of his inclinations and later work.

John Martyn's death in 2009 aged 60 was so utterly sad and it still upsets me, but what a life he will have lived! I recall being taken aback by the on-line and other music community's outpourings of grief and love for the man at the time: in that egocentric world of the massive fan I thought I was the only one who loved him so much. That arrogance wasn't a fully realised sentiment I say a little defensively [!], but I am just trying to be honest, and I was so moved so often when I read others' observations on how John had shaped their thoughts and feelings exactly as he did mine so early on and over the years. He was never a 'popular' artist, but the affection of John's fan-base is clearly more fundamental and permanent than that which is perhaps more superficially evident for other artists.

To finish on a more upbeat note, the disc I am still listening to which is mainly alternative mixes includes some of John's famous patter and this was always a hoot at gigs, certainly the early ones when I could understand what he was saying! This was so often with his great friend and musical partner Danny Thompson. To get an aural glimpse of this listen to 'Live at Leeds'.

As I come to a close writing this, I am listening to a demo track 'When It's Dark' that never made the album. What a beautiful song.

60s/70s vinyl sampler covers [note: spider warning...]

The real thing: those professional compilations. What a wonderfully expansive and inexpensive way to discover great music and artists. And the covers are etched in the nostalgic recall as much as the music and how it shaped who you were and are.