Saturday, 26 February 2011

Teddy encore

The link below has an interview with Teddy Thompson and some insight into his feelings about the 'production' of Bella. I was obviously interested when he claims he had considered a 'stripped down' album....

Listen to the solo acoustic performances to get a sense of what I was eulogising in my review of his Bridport concert.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Hurricane in Bridport

Teddy Thompson - Live at the Electric Palace, Bridpot, 24th February, 2011 [this review was written soon after the gig but I have only just been able to post]

Bridport's Electric Palace survived Teddy Thompson's power surge tonight as he gave a lightning strike final concert performance on his UK Bella tour. I write this still fully charged from my plug-in at one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. The reason is simple: Thompson played solo, and it will be hard to continue this review without seeming to use hyperbole to describe a hurricane.

Part of the sparking impact was created by Thompson's apparent edginess at the start. He was in a witty but caustic mood, implying the tour hadn't been as successful as hoped and threatening just to quip rather than sing. A bragging reference to his wealth could have alienated a paying audience, and it was an uncertain, hesitant start that had me seriously doubting his will to continue.

But the show did go on, gaining momentum as he performed an impressive repertoire, beginning with two numbers from Bella - his first ‘The One I Can’t Have’, establishing also the power of his guitar playing - and a moment of subsequent banter with a plumber in the balcony appeared to fully kick-start our evening. The audience was getting more involved too, though my sense is that for many this was a good-night-out in genteel Bridport rather than a fan's following. I sensed this because I seemed to be the only one who noticed his arrival – an apparently anonymous figure casually walking down the aisle to the stage door, and when he again entered the hall during David Ford's excellent opening support.

The show wasn’t dominated at the start by Bella numbers – an obvious promotion - and I do wonder if this was in response to any disaffection at earlier shows on the tour or simply an original plan. The set list also had a spontaneous feel, but if so it was intuitively sharp, and perfectly mixed what I would regard as his ‘hits’ with the new material from his latest album. I highlight ‘hits’ because again I sensed a lack of familiarity with his material in much of the audience, and at one stage I felt I was the only person applauding the ‘obvious’ beginning to a song [but I'll wager this concert will have produced a significant clutch of new and committed fans by the end].

Appropriately, his singing throughout was beautiful. Ballads were played with finessed guitar and resonating vocals whilst livelier numbers had Teddy strumming the amped guitar with rhythmic punch as well as occasional lead – his singing always filling the quaint hall with pitch-perfect and pulsating voice. Interestingly, in my initial review of Bella I was apologetic for appearing to be negative overall, certainly expressing a slight but sustained criticism of the over-production, especially use of strings. Hearing these numbers stripped to the pure songwriting and quintessence of performance I knew I would want to retract that apology and I do so now! I acknowledged then how such production was understandable in attempting to broaden Thompson’s audience – the solo singer/songwriter historically having critical but not popular appeal - but this performance was for me as good as it gets and it was a genuine privilege to hear. ‘Separate Ways’ was a rendition to embrace and epitomise not just Thompson’s excellence as singer/songwriter but also his concrete consolidation in that superior British genealogy.

In concluding, it's worth noting how the intimacy of a small venue and live performance enhances the appreciation of a great artist. I trust I’ve made it clear how exceptional I feel his talent is: the word ‘hurricane’ isn’t in fact wholly apt, but I hope the analogy about trying to describe is understood. An example of what I mean from this show is demonstrated when Thompson explained that the song ‘Home’ was dedicated to his mother, and this one stated sentiment altered entirely the effect the song then and now has on me. My album review reference to the ‘domestic dominance of returning home’ misses the sweet if simple familial love conveyed through that superficially domestic preoccupation.

This was the penultimate song of his single encore. He finished, as he has been doing, on Abba’s ‘Super Trouper’ and it is astonishing but nonetheless amazing that with such a stunning songbook he can exit on such a pop classic. The fact that the audience could rouse to its familiarity was obviously ironic, but Teddy Thompson seemed to genuinely enjoy this and the overall experience. However, I'll wager again that he can't have possibly enjoyed it as much as me!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Dusty Springfield - Cameo

When Burt speaks...

According to my tabloid tipple, the Welsh chanteuse Duffy is leaving the music business. Her decision has apparently been prompted by a poor response to her second album and thus she is going to have babies instead of recording and performing. That's a shame for her - not the having babies - but ending a career, or at least the beginnings of a musical career. It's not a particular shame for the music industry, and I'm not being nasty. I liked Duffy well enough though her nasal noise could nauseate. Her first album was very popular and I enjoyed the songs. Whenever interviewed in that heavy promotion circuit to support a new release she always came across as grounded and honest about herself and her music.

It's no great loss in as much as there is an abundance of good British female singers already there and others climbing onto the cloning treadmill. A quick reference would be Amy Winehouse, Adele, Rumer - to suggest a lineage that would include Duffy just after AW - and then Florence Welch, Natasha Khan and those others I have heard but just can't remember their names.

There are voices in that brief list I do like: Amy Winehouse ought to be earning her place in history, her first album showing a jazzier voice before various affectations, and then the other stuff, and Florence Welch probably has the most powerfully pure voice of this cohort.

How do any of these chanteuses earn their place in musical history? They will always be compared with their precursors, either the most immediate ones or those from the days when legendary status could be achieved. Even Rumer has to reference one of these in her song 'Aretha' from her recent debut album and it's a pleasing enough song with a pleasing enough voice, but I don't think I will return to the album because I have heard it all before.

Perhaps it is the fact that there are so many consistently good voices out there that it's difficult to rise above the collective heads. All of this focus on female singers has been prompted by my watching last night an excellent TV programme 'The British Invasion: Dusty Springfield' and my listening now to her album Cameo because that's one that I have. Of course she is one of the 'greats' and as I have said before in this blog it is difficult if not even wrong to always make comparisons between artists. But if they decide to do it themselves....

This album Cameo is not her most famous, for example compared with Dusty in Memphis, but it is still excellent from beginning to end, and, rightly or wrongly, how do you compete with this? It is genuinely difficult to compete with the songwriting because when you have Burt Bacharach penning your occasional hit [on other albums] that is a significant advantage. The main writers here are Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter contributing five of the eleven tracks and producing the whole album [though the programme does tell us that Dusty is the uncredited producer of much on her various albums, having selected the songs themselves as well as backing singers and musicians; she also wrote some of her own material]. One track, 'Tupelo Honey', is written by Van Morrison and is the title song of his fifth album. More importantly it reflects the range of songs she choose to sing but also the strength of that choice and also, perhaps, the strength of what was available at that time. This song's R&B female backing vocals provide a funky support to Dusty's soulful singing.

One of the more impressive moments in the programme was the great man Bacharach himself in a cool lounge - that's posture not room - describing her singing as 'very soft and intimate.....a Smokey voice, a sexy voice' and then commenting expertly on her breathing control, and you realise what an accolade the Robinson reference is and just how accurate his judgement must be. He adds, in what could seem a throwaway line, that she was also 'a nice lady, let's not forget that', which he repeats for effect, and again you realise that these respectively large and simple assessments are full of affection and experience and assurance.

I'll end not surprisingly by returning to the theme of current British chanteuses but perhaps surprisingly by mentioning one that I think might have the most distinctive voice, or at least the most potential to make a name for herself: Cher Lloyd. Yes, I do mean the mean girl from 'X-Factor' though the meanness is probably one of the many show-induced and tabloid fueled myths that so many feel is a requisite for success these days, as if talent alone will not suffice. She too has her precursor demons to fight off or tame but within the confines of what that programme revealed I saw enough of a pure voice and a genuine rap affinity to sense a true talent and a star - whatever that latter term can really mean these days - in the making. At least there is the possibility to see a freshish slate on the female British singing scene. Let's hope all of the other crap associated with her introduction through 'X-Factor' and the myriad pitfalls of the music industry itself and the public's fickle tastes do not destroy that potential.

[The picture of Dusty at the top of this piece is from a 1966 concert where she closes her show with 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me', shown on the TV programme, and it's a brilliant performance and apparently at the very top of her vocal range, a pitch she refused to alter because it was how the song was written, and thus she would close on this as it would have hurt to continue afterwards]

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Amboy Dukes - Marriage on the Rocks/Rock Bottom

Pre-Redneck Ted

This is an amazing album - experimental and eclectic and exhilarating. It was recorded in 1969 and released I think in 1970. I bought the vinyl somewhere in California in the early 70s when I was visiting my family in Los Angeles. I remember also buying a second-hand pair of Levis from a large pile of similar in a cool shop somewhere else in California. They were the best I ever had. I also bought a pair of blue and white striped jeans you could only buy in the States and I wore them on the plane back to England and no one laughed, at least not to my face.

In loving this album you have to divorce your feelings for the Ted Nugent then from the Ted Nugent now. There may in fact be no difference in his actual thoughts and feelings across this time, but his current right-wing and gun-totting views did not appear on the album, unless 'Get Yer Guns' was a premonition of his contemporary right-to-bear-arms advocacy rather than the revolutionary fight for freedom I imagined in those instinctive or wishful thinking listening days of the early 70s.

I didn't know who the Amboy Dukes were when I bought the album either. All I saw was four long-hairs faintly appearing from the shadows of a black cover, and assuming I read the back, the song titles had the weird and wonderful and therefore attractive descriptive nonsense that would suggest this was the kind of far-out music I would freak out to, for example 'The Inexhaustible Quest for the Cosmic Cabbage'. That was a much more expansive statement than 'Fresh Garbage' - what more could a young hippie desire?

Whatever the intricacies and/or hidden messages of the lyrics, the music thrilled me then as it does now. The opener 'Marriage' [in 3 parts] is a full-on prog instrumental with the occasional mix of garage and classical guitar, symptomatic of the whole album's rich and varied mixtures. Such a start was bound to hook me at that time. The second track 'Breast-fed Gator' is classic 70s rock with heavy metal vocals and the spirit of Blue Cheer. I've already mentioned the third 'Get Yer Guns' and it's the line 'it's time to take over this place' that I will have transformed, rightly or wrongly, as a call to metaphorical arms against the establishment of the time. Who would have known then that it was Nugent's future call to allegedly shit in Saddam Hussein's bidet when he made a visit to the former leader's war room as a reward for entertaining the US troops in Iraq in 2004?

'Non-conformist Wilderbeast Man' is a brisk rocking track in the vein of Ten Years After to keep the aural heart pumping. The fifth 'Today's Lesson [Ladies and Gentleman]' has a wild guitar and screaming-in-pain vocal sandwich that plays across the stereo speakers in the brilliantly obvious way it was so simply mixed in those days.

My favourite track is the sixth 'Children of the Woods' and it starts side 2 of the vinyl. This is the funkiest number and has a stonking guitar solo. Again, the lyric 'free the children of the woods' probably appealed to my naive sense of making a stand against the world - whatever that world represented because it was important to be against it - and it is the anthemic chorus 'free the little children' [ahhh] that leads into the track's wicked and wondrous wow-wow guitar solo.

The last two tracks conclude the album on its eclectic high. The penultimate 'Brain Games of Yesteryear' is a rocketlaunched garage rocker, and the last 'The Inexhaustible Quest for the Cosmic Cabbage' is a mishmash of styles - what one reviewer has called 'cut and paste' - and it is the most psychedelic with its jazz sax woven in and out of the variations, these variations including Beach Boy echos, Beatlesesque [or more aptly George Martin] soundbites, chanting, and an overall Zappaesque aural aura.

It's a great listen. My cover has a bullet-hole in the top left hand corner [OK, I know what it is really...] and I'm guessing Nugent shot a few for target practice before he moved on to the animal world and, if he had his way, the anti-West 'tyrants' of the world. I think shitting in their bidets is quite a sane and sensible alternative to shooting.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Jefferson Starship - Dragon Fly

Still flying

I bought the vinyl of this in recent years but had somehow forgotten about it. I do this a lot as my duplicated purchases will testify. Listening today to a cd copy I was reminded how brilliant it is, not least because Grace Slick's vocals are so dominant and strong as one would expect and hope having grown up as a listener with Jefferson Airplane.

This is the first album in the reincarnation of JA, released in 1974, and I was reminded of how much I like this sound [I have never got into Hot Tuna in the same way - it's a different sound, of course, but never interests me, seeming derivative and bland].

'Dragon Fly' is a strong album throughout but three special tracks perform a perfect beginning, middle and end to its Airplanesque narrative: 'Ride the Tiger' which was and is a radio-hit, 'Caroline' with Marty Balin's vocal belting out its romantic balladry and reminding us of his brilliant singing partnership with Slick, and 'Hyperdrive' with its crescendo of Grace Slick's penned and performed excellence.

The vinyl will soon get it's spin just to crawl aurally back a little more into a nostalgic reverie.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Music Of Mice And Men

I am having lunch later today with former teaching colleagues to catch-up and to decide who has won the competition, organised by one of the bright sparks in the team, to select 10 music tracks that best represent John Steinbeck's novella 'Of Mice and Men'. This is my submission:

Chapter 1

Beans - Nirvana
Don't Say a Word - David Cook

Chapter 2
Candy Man - Donovan
Vasoline - Stone Temple Pilots
Fighting Talk - Colosseum II

Chapter 3
Don't Shoot My Dog - Terrorvision

Chapter 4
Supper Time - Ethel Waters

Chapter 5
Mean to Me - Julie London
I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry - Hank Williams Snr

Chapter 6
Bright Eyes - Art Garfunkel

There is an excellent selection of brilliant ideas from my friends, some done amazingly quickly [and these people have full time jobs], and should one of them win, as I expect they will, they can then set up their own damn music blog to tell you their choices!

A simple list

What I've listened to today [not complete because I have dipped in and out of other stuff and repeated listenings] so this is the 'new to me' aural experience:

Kaki King - Everybody Loves You [brilliant instrumental guitar virtuoso]
James Vincent McMorrow - Same
Mick Jagger - Goddess in the Doorway [surprisingly good and I may need to amend comments I have made earlier about the songwriting prominance in the Jagger/Richards partnership]
Terry Reid - Rogue Waves [brilliant 'Walk Away Renee']
Carlos Santana - Blues for Salvador [some bad 80s synth shit, but also some stunning guitar - there's a surprise!]

Where's the awe? Kaki King is an amazing guitarist; Terry Reid is such a brilliant singer and interpreter; Carlos Santana doesn't require an explanation.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

James Surprise Taylor

James Taylor was a 60s/70s Laural Canyon musical alumni which I mention having posted the poem below that was prompted by a TV programme about those fruitful singer/songwriter LA years. I have also been listening to a 'Live and Rarities' James Taylor collection this evening so will catch this moment to say something about him knowing I will return again to write much more.

It is the 'folk' singer/songwriter for which Taylor is best known and no doubt loved and I won't deny being a part of that. My first real interest in him was sparked by his 'Sweet Baby James' album and like I've said before about other greats I have collected everything of his before and since this, as well as seeing him live once when he played in Plymouth.

Two specific things I want to say here in this brief visit: firstly, his in one of the distinctive voices that has, without doubt, matured over the many years of his outstanding career whilst for so many others it can fade and deteriorate and in the saddest cases become an embarrassment; secondly, he can truly rock and that 'folk' tag is challenged by a gutsy, bluesy and even funky singing and guitar playing when he gets it going, an obvious number being 'Steamroller', but I'm going to tell you now as something of a surprise - even more so if anyone is actually reading this - that one of his more stonking numbers in this rocking vein is.............'Jingle Bells'! That's right, ol' JT delivers a funky and grooving 'JB' on his relatively recent Christmas album and I might just go and give myself a present by playing and listening now.

Our House

Returning from the sunshine mall of seventies
Laurel Canyon, Graham Nash writes Our House
for Joni, himself and me in one happy hour -
peace and love and other imaginings moving
through the piano keys - and I return today from our
small-time shopping spree to pen these fourteen lines,
willing enough when singing along, but now way
beyond those dreams, and this is our home’s song:
I’ll light the fire to keep the cold from your disease
and bring flowers too to place in a vase you made
years before when life would never seem so hard,
and the evening sunshine can be a real dream of summer
when I will mow the moss and weeds of our yard
whilst humming old songs like a noise in the breeze.

King Crimson - In the Wake of Poseido

Kings of mellotronn

Now listening to a compilation of 'slower' King Crimson tracks I have just completed. A favourite of these favourites is 'In the Wake of Poseidon' which gives a superb platform for Crimson's distinctive use of mellotron.

What a gorgeous track prompting memories of my first enjoyment and the year on year returns. Great bass line, but it is the machine-gun bursts of drumming that also features as key instrument throughout. These two and the mellotron of course. It's the closing lines which mesmerise by repeating the three simple brilliant descending melodic notes, adding choric and other textures as it progresses.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Natural connection

Nature Boy

Not exactly existential, but it is neat how things can connect by accident.

Over recent weeks I have been listening to and writing about male vocals, in particular those of Kurt Elling and Paul Bentley, a connection itself some might find strained, but the respectively world renowned singer and the now perhaps prematurely retired singer share, in my mind, distinctive vocals of note.

Another connection has been learning more about Jeremy Sassoon who performs with Bentley. He was good enough to communicate with and point me in the right direction with some of my observations about their album 'Bacon or Pastrami?'. He also kindly sent me an mp3 solo track, 'Nature Boy', from his debut forthcoming vocal/piano project.

In writing the other day about Elling's latest release 'The Gate' I sought out and watched some YouTube clips of him performing. One was of him singing 'Nature Boy' in Sydney with a full orchestra. It is an expansive full-on version with his distinctive vocalese on show as well as the orchestral umph behind this. What a huge song this is to support such a performance.

And here's the main connection. It is also the case that 'Nature Boy' is an intimate song, borne out by Sassoon's measured, warm and atmospheric presentation with a delicate cello accompaniment behind this.

It is one of the infinite pleasures of listening to music that there can be these differences and nuances and links and even dramatic oppositions. This song this week has thrown up a perfect and natural connection for this listener.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Kurt Elling - The Gate

Enter for sheer pleasure

I've referred to this brilliant vocalist in some detail earlier in this blog. So I'll keep this short and supportive, the latter an understatement.

This is a superb album with interesting covers: King Crimson's 'Matte Kudasai', The Beatles' 'Norwegian Wood', and Stevie Wonder's 'Golden Lady' [see clip below, and check out others on YouTube to see this amazing performer live].

'Norwegian Wood' is an early favourite with its jazz timings and strong central guitar solo.

The gate has been opened onto a garden of Elling delights.

Kurt Elling "Golden Lady" (Stevie Wonder) @ New Morning (Paris)

The Stylistics - Same


Having mentioned the falsetto singing of Teddy Thompson in the previous post, as well as a cute [I thought so] reference to The Stylistics, it was an apt coincidence to tune in a few minutes ago to an 'Old Grey Whistle Test' airing on BBC 4 as part of their weekend reggae celebration. I just caught the end of that recording of a reggae concert at the Edinburgh Festival, and The Pioneers were singing 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone' in beautiful harmonies and a perfect falsetto lead.

I loved The Stylistics and the tenor falsetto of Russell Thompkins, Jr., and saw them perform sometime in the 70s at the Gaumont Theatre in Ipswich. I don't care how smooth and smoochy and saccharine the songs, I squeaked aloud then and can do so now to the wonderful 'Stop, Look, Listen [To Your Heart], 'Betcha By Golly, Wow', 'You Make Me Feel Brand New', and 'You Are Everything' [the first and fourth songs made brilliant again by the Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye partnership].

And they wore their turquoise suits.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Teddy Thompson - Bella


His latest album is finally fully on the scene and it should garner the popularity and recognition his previous work was more than capable of producing, but hasn't. Perhaps it is the media-savvy promotion as much as the popish tunes that will generate a wider appeal.

I have been a committed fan for some time now and saw Teddy Thompson perform a few years ago in promotion of A Piece of What You Need - perhaps his best album - and am excited about seeing him in two weeks' time as he promotes Bella.

It has been interesting to follow advance reviews of this album as well as those over the last few days. By and large there is a collective appreciation of Thompson's considerable talent and a feeling that this work will be his most successful. My view is that he is an outstanding songwriter and glorious singer. Most mention the parental pedigree and that must matter, but I see this as producing the rich musical environment of his growing up rather than some genetically transferred expertise. Just listen to the brilliant duet Teddy does with dad Richard on 'Persuasion' [not this album] and the distinctiveness of the vocals is crystal clear, and moving.

Over four previous albums Thomson has established a poised heart-on-sleeve and cheeky-chappy approach to songwriting, though the Country focused Upfront and Down Low is less so in this respect. I mention this because his way with words matters. There are couplets upon couplets of clever rhymes one could celebrate, but I think the storytelling bristles with sincerity as much as it does with wit.

Another reason I mention this is because the only tinge of criticism of Bella has been for some of its lyrics. I don't know if this is a gender issue - I can't be assed to look further being a lazy sort of bloke - but Hermione Hoby writing in The Observer considers some of the lyrics in the album are 'misjudged'. It's just opinion of course, and I warm to her line 'A Piece of What You Need was full of finely-tuned self-laceration and sharp humour' but she feels his lyrical edge on Bella has been 'blunted'. The lyric to exemplify this, and mentioned in other reviews, is from the song 'Looking for a Girl' and goes 'I'm looking for a girl who's good in bed/But knows when it's time to knock it on the head'. I have to assume Hoby's concern is with its dismissive tone. Yet the song is more appalling than this as it progresses in the establishment of a manifesto for girlfriend criteria, but that appallingness is surely the bombast of the joke. My reading is supported comically by further lyrics, though presumably these are the other 'misjudged' ones in Hoby's admittedly only brief reservation: the song 'The One I Can't Have' produces more playful Thompson couplets

'I was born with love disease
It's known as chronic hard-to-please

I want one I can't have

Given choices A and B
I'll probably go with option C'

Plenty of arrogant male swagger here with Samson and Gregory meeting their match [minus the crudities]. Yet the macho banter is tempered by the self-deprecation of knowing he won't get the girl, and the comic acknowledgement that he falls in love with women seen on TV and in a magazine. It's a joke. And back at 'Looking For a Girl': you know that anyone with Thompson's intelligent lyrical self-laceration is clearly taking the piss with a line like 'someone who turns my bread to buttered toast'. This song is definitely onside for me. Not a gray area about this at all.

To the tracks as a whole, finally, though that said, I have to start with the opener 'Looking For a Girl'. This will surely bring the album to that desired wider attention as radio's reactorlight views it through an accommodating lens. It is pop music for foot-tapping and smiles. This is followed by 'Delilah' with its sweeping strings to waft along the more genuinely romantic love of the lyrics, and this orchestration becomes a feature of the album as a whole. Indeed, having already stated my favourite Thompson album I would say that APOWYN and also Separate Ways best reflect the songwriters' craft and brilliance whereas Bella with its arrangements and production reflect additional preoccupations, not just to sell - though that must be a significant consideration - but to provide expanse to Thompson's oeuvre.

The third track 'I Feel' is a rock'n'roller as are others on the album [a genuine homage with his stated love for 50s music, particularly the Everly Brothers]. The variety of this album is reflected immediately in the next 'Over and Over', which is more traditionally Thompson material with its major to minor tones, but also its Arabian instrumentation adding the surprise. The fifth 'Take Me Back Again' is the Country insurgent with twang guitar, but only at the start before the dancing strings and eventual kettle drums and tubular bells. This also has a classic Thompsonesque song structure with a succession of sung descending lines, starting at his falsetto top, and an echo of Roy Orbison. This is a busy song, full of arrangement.

The sixth is a duet 'Tell Me What You Want' with Jenni Muldaur and again has a rock'n'roll ballad echo. The next 'Home' is simple picked acoustic guitar but with another layer of strings and recounts the domestic dominance of returning home. Little oboe rolls creep in near the end and there is by now a sense of over-production. There is no question for me that the collection of tracks cannot compete with the originality and impact of those from the proceeding two albums - it is the production being foregrounded here, but again that is because I prefer the solo songwriter genre above this.

The next one is 'The Next One' and has some fine guitar work in it. The ninth track is interesting for a number of reasons. It's opening strummed chords are clearly based on those of 'So Easy' from Thompson's first album but it is the sustained falsetto singing that is both striking and noted by reviewers. It is striking because it is faultless but I prefer to hear Thompson moving in and out of this range. If, however, a new Stylistics formed and needed a Russell Thompkins, Jr. vocal clone for lead singer, the job is Teddy's, but I think as fans we'd hate for him to take it!

The penultimate track is the jaunty 'The One I Can't Have' already mentioned. The album closes on 'Gotta Have Someone' with punchy rhythms swathed in those sweeping strings again and there is a danger that Thompson's vocals are overpowered by the arrangements. The lyric has a strong and positive sentiment to conclude.

The close focus of this review has made me sound more negative that I want, both in terms of inclination and how it sums up the whole of this album. I have such a strong attachment to those outstanding songs from earlier albums that this does force itself as a comparison upon this album's more polished, in production terms, overall impact. It is an excellent album that adds breadth in its fifth notch on what I hope continues to be a succession of great Teddy Thompson albums to savour.

Have another poem

from Charles Bukowski's 'Bone Palace Ballet'


oh yes, I'm a good guy,
as soon as the toilet paper
runs low,
I'll take it out and replace
with a full fat roll.
I don't live
and I am aware
that a sudden unwilling search
of that dark blank
can jinx this tender mood
or write a curse
on the cool tile

good guys like me are needed in
this more than difficult

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Have another flyer....

from Peter Reading's 'Vantage Tardive'

Donnhoff Oberhauser Brucke

Riesling Eiswein 1998, 375 ml.,

colour, old gold
as Grandmother's wedding ring
assayed in 1900
24 carat.

Nose, intense, honeyed,

Palate, confirming all these
together with profound fruit.

Picked late from the frozen vine
the Qualitatswein mit Pradikat,
lusciously concentrating
fructose, has even countered
the tabloids' and broadsheets' faecal
facts slapped daily
onto the cheap lino.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Steve Earle - Billy Austin (1991 on New Country)

Aural Earle

I first heard of Steve Earle on the excellent 'New Country' TV programme where he performed his song 'Billy Austin' which is posted above. It's a song I used in my teaching because the lyrics - simple but authentic - prompted discussion and writing at many levels. An obvious question was the 'why' to the decision stated in those haunting lines

'Guess I'll never know what made me
Turn and walk back through that door'

I'd show the 'New Country' clip too because he looked so cool.

I immediately bought 'The Hard Way' cassette tape [and subsequently the vinyl] and have collected everything he has recorded since as well as catching up with previous work. I also had the great pleasure of seeing him perform some years ago in Bristol.

He is a consummate singer/songwriter, an astute political thinker and commentator, and a skilled writer. I rate his short story collection 'Doghouse Roses'.

It was listening today to Percy Sledge's cover of Earle's brilliant song 'My Old Friend The Blues' that prompted me to write this brief piece and post it. No doubt I'll put something on later like 'Transcendental Blues' to get my aural Earle fix.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Funny guy

'I lost some weight - mainly from one leg.'

Brilliant in every which way.


I was asked recently what Americans mean when they use the word gravy to apply to a feeling or a situation. I used then what I use now to explain - this poem by Ray Carver:


No other word will do. For that's what it was. Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. "Don't weep for me,"
he said to his friends. "I'm a lucky man.
I've had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don't forget it."

The powerful simplicity of honest writing. Reading Carver is pure gravy.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Gary Moore

Sad to hear of Gary Moore's death yesterday, aged 58.

17 year old lead guitar player with Irish rockers Skid Row, then stardom with Thin Lizzy, and a stellar solo career. I wasn't a huge fan in as much as, surprisingly, I have little of his work, but I was always in awe of his guitar playing: the virtuosity which included the phenomenal control of volume and feedback. A true, international guitar great.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Sassoon & Bentley - Bacon or Pastrami?

Choice partnership

The meat-choice in the title of this album is as contrived a dichotomy as the Jew/gentile biographical bifurcation presented - tongue-in-cheek - in the booklet that comes with this neatly packaged and superbly played recording of the Jeremy Sassoon and Paul Benley musical partnership.

Their respective Manchester United vs Liverpool football divergence is also replicated in body shapes but this spurious tug-of-war stops when the music starts and the symbiosis gets played out in this fine album.

I've written about Paul earlier and also Jeremy as I have discovered more about the shared history of these two. 'Bacon or Pastrami?' was recorded in 2009 and may actually be the final reflection of their union, but more on that later. Having received this cd a few days ago I have been listening regularly since, along with their 'Crispy Duk' cd also referenced in this blog, and I now have a fuller appreciation of their joint work, but also Paul Bentley's brilliance as a vocalist which is where I started with his album 'Come Sunday' and my happy experience of his live Manchester Festival gig in 2006.

'Bacon or Pastrami?' starts with two standards 'Let The Good Times Roll' and 'I've Got You Under My Skin', familiar and essential Bentley territory. The third track is 'And I Love Her' and you are immediately in that other territory - also explored in this blog - where one can ask if it is the excellence of the song itself or this version that distinguishes the track here? The question is, however, as fragile as the mock conflict of the album title and player biogs because such a famous original would seem to preclude a striking cover, but Benley's vocal is perfect here and compliments that famous melody. Put more simply, it is a worthy partnership and that's all that matters, 'partnership' being a key theme of this review. I especially like the Richard Hammond bass line, penned by Sassoon, and it's therefore no surprise it echoes the fine bass on the 'Crispy Duk' version of 'Summertime' played there by Sassoon with right hand keyboard and left hand bass simultaneously.

The next track 'On Broadway' continues Benley's covers confidence but also has that solid Sassoon keyboard support that is initially understated and then becomes more punchy as it leads into its instrumental. 'Spider Man' provides a playful interlude and the next track I want to highlight is the version of 'Nearness of You'. This, for me, showcases the simple strength of Bentley's vocals and the overall song arrangements. That vocal excellence is clarity, timing, and the held notes. This is complemented by the tight keyboard/bass support and sultry solo spot which rises to the rhythmic crescendo of the last sung verse with closing cascading keyboard lines.

I should mention and credit here Iain Dixon who penned the larger band arrangements, with Sassoon focusing on smaller band ones.

Throughout this and the other two albums mentioned the musical success is also built on careful song juxtapositions, but you'd expect that to be a given. The eleventh track 'Don't Set Me Free' has two sweet sax [Iain Dixon] and trumpet solos so that's a good example of this professional balancing.

The album ends with 'Amazing Grace/I'll Fly Away' and presumably caters to Bentley's gospel affinities. Sassoon lays down the melodic line with keyboard on its own to signal this simple gospel link, and the track is performed with just the partnership of this simple pair - voice and keyboard - and, in the end, this represents the perfect performance sandwich whatever its paradoxical mixture of historical, cultural and biographical ingredients.

The portion of this final track 'I'll Fly Away' fades quite quickly and it is genuinely sad to report that this is in some ways metaphoric of Paul Bentley's decision to no longer gig, a fact I have only just picked up. I have no idea if he will continue to record but I obviously hope so.

Finishing on the food analogy, pastrami is distinct enough as a cold-cut to survive on its own, and to keep your taste-buds tuned to the work of Jeremy Sassoon you can peruse his forthcoming musical menu - recordings and gigs - at, though his other site currently under construction will soon be the place to visit for current news and future projects

Friday, 4 February 2011

Duke Ellington and John Coltrane - Same


This is a perfect album, released in 1963. Before I begin to describe, I will repeat what I have already said, not by way of excuse but simple honesty: I'm no expert on jazz [the earlier reference was about classical music, but the same applies], however, I know what I like. And I like this.

In my ignorance I imagine a great mutual respect between these two [not that this is hard to imagine, I just don't know]. What I mean is there is the 63 year old veteran and more 'traditionalist' Ellington playing with the 36 year old 'experimentalist' Coltrane and as I write both those descriptors I am so aware of their shortcomings. But for Ellington to so gently and simply lay down support for what seems to me some explosive saxophone playing, there must have been this extraordinary empathy - or perhaps for such great musicians it just comes easily and naturally. Would Ellington have been mesmerised by the playing - that's the question I am naively asking. Of course Coltrane would have been honoured to play with Ellington. In 1962 when this was recorded would Ellington have been aware of where such sax playing was headed?

To the songs. The opener 'In A Sentimental Mood' is just beautiful. Ellington's lightly tapped and hypnotic rhythm sets off the exquisite melody of Coltrane's playing. 'Big Nick' has the most amazing [surely tautological when referring to Coltrane] alto solo. Now, clever-clogs alert, but I'm unable to describe these solos in musical terms I read from the experts, so my most genuine metaphor is to liken it to a young boy calmly sitting who is suddenly let out to play and he immediately runs leaps climbs jumps tumbles pokes hits somersaults dives stumbles ascends exhausts and gradually returns to a calm and controlled position. This alto solo also has that reverberation so familiar in 'My Favorite Things'. 'Stevie' has a tenor solo that is at times raw in intensity. 'My Little Brown Book' has a smooth, gentle and pure sound that's the calmed boy grown to a calmed man in his perfect element. I haven't written about the others because this was difficult enough but I have had fun trying.

As I've also said before, such narratives are no substitute for the listening and anyone listening to this should just hear the enthusiasm and awe.

Would Conway Twitter?

It's just a smartass title to grab attention.......

I was lucky enough to see the late and great Conway Twitty at the Siskiyou State Fair [Yreka, California] in I believe 1992. In the eclecticism that I want to inform this music blog, Conway's work sits supremely with the rock and the folk and the classical and the jazz. I love good Country and Western and I love Conway's authentic rendition of this music at its best, musically and lyrically.

'It's Only Make Believe' was released in 1958 so I was only 4 years old then but at some stage in my incipient musical absorption that rock 'n' roll song with its ascending melodramatic song-structure and Conway's delivery blew me away.

I have two Conway Twitty 'country' favourites: 'I See The Want To In Your Eyes' [with a video clip below, a live version rather than the lip-synced one also available] and 'There's A Honky Tonk Angel'. These and Conway's singing epitomise all that's brilliant in this genre - the pain, suffering and longing of love and the heartfelt with-any-twang-going vocal presentation. 'I could light that fire again' Conway threatens then asks 'how strong is a band of gold'. A simple and familiar enough lyrical soap-opera, but he then adds 'How many women just like you have silent schemes; how many men like me do they sleep with in their dreams?'. I don't know if Conway wrote those raunchy rhetorical lines - probably not [*] - but like any great performer he gives them their credible drama.

Well, that hair style was appealing at one stage, and no, mine isn't like that; not entirely.

[* written by Mischa Scorer and Wayne Carson]

Conway Twitty - I See The Want To In Your Eyes (1974) HQ

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Can't Explain Either

Can't Explain - music, film and book blog

There's a 'fellow' site I occasionally follow and it is referenced in 'My Blog List'. It's name Can't Explain is patently ironic because the author JPK's writing is always honest and eloquent and engaging. I focus on the music and we share many likes, having a common affinity for so many songs which must obviously be a reflection of mutual opinion but also our age and the experience of the music with which we grew up and which also made deep, lasting impressions during that process.

I am always amazed though never surprised at the music mentioned that I do not share a liking for or which I simply do not know. I can't explain the brilliant paradox of that reality but it is just opinion after all and it increases my respect for the contrary nature and expression of divergent opinion when I know there is so much common ground and, as I've already stated, its articulation is so genuine and clear.

I said 'fellow' site and highlighted the word because I do not want to assume an equivalence. JPK has certainly been writing much longer and there is an impressive depth of knowledge. I left a few comments and had interesting replies but I don't want to become a blog stalker either [!] thus I'm writing these comments here at the moment.

JPK has produced a top 100 musical list that is fascinating and anyone reading this should check it out. I have commented on entries on Hendrix's 'All Along the Watchtower', Music Machine's 'Talk Talk', and a brief ref to The Electric Prunes' 'I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night'. In various ways JPK rates these and so do I. And so do millions.

The song I am commenting on here rather than there [can you imagine me writing this much on JPK's site in a comment box?!] is America's 'Horse With No Name'. JPK's observations are both incisive and amusing. All I will add is that this is for me an unquestionable favourite and I have no reservations about my adoration for the song and the band in general. The 'West Coast' songwriting and harmonies may have their precursors and influences but America in my estimation sits on a par with any of these. Their first album release here in England - where the band lived and wrote at the time - didn't actually have the 'HWNN' track on it. This was a successful radio single and the album was sold on the back of that. Other brilliant tracks are 'Riverside', 'Sandman' and 'Three Roses' which has a superb acoustic guitar strum that I think became a distinctive feature of their playing.

Like JPK, this objective musical appreciation is built on the foundation of a wholly subjective infatuation too [and maybe JPK doesn't go quite that far!]. 'HWNN' has romantic connotations for me - first love no less - but the whole album replays the joy and pain of growing up at that time: where I lived, my friends, my discoveries, my failures and my victories. And it's when that one line - which might be as prosaic as 'there were plants and birds and rocks and things' - creates a palpable timeshift to actually being right back there: wow, what a song and glorious transportation.

John Coltrane - Blue Train

Missed train

Having recently acquired and just finished listening I don't know how I missed out on this excellent album, not that I am a huge collector. I do believe the first jazz album I bought was John Coltrane's 'On West 42nd Street', recorded in 1957, the year Coltrane apparently beat his heroin addiction, and I have other Impulse vinyls of collected works. My favourite track has always been 'My Favorite Things' and if anyone has followed my writing so far - which at the very least is clarifying for me my listening proclivities - I will love it because of its beautiful ['pretty'] Roger/Hammerstein melodic line and then the Coltrane signature development and improvisation around this.

I was led to the saxophone and its jazz home and its genius player through rock music: it was Van Der Graaf Generator and Colosseum and Manfred Mann Chapter III and all that jazz-rock and much more that prompted me as a teenager to discover jazz and in particular Coltrane.

This album was also recorded in 1957 so there is a lovely symmetry in my recent 'discovery'. The only comments I want to make are on its clarity of playing and the joyous tone. It was researching a little more when I found out about the beating of his addiction and how this led to the 'joy' of performing and recording at that time. It's just someone else's view, but I would appear to have heard a truth in that.