Saturday, 23 July 2011

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings - Kings and Queens

Collaborative Royalty

This is a wonderful album of collaborations hosted by Canadian band Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. The guest list is entirely female, including the musical royalty of Lucinda Williams, Rosanne Cash, Cassandra Wilson, Patti Scialfa, Pam Tillis, and Emmylou Harris.

Opener If I Can't Have You with Lucinda Williams countryrocks in classic Buddy Miller style. Got You Covered pairs Rosanne Cash in a popish but agreeable jaunt. Cassandra Williams provides a soft and understated solo as well as harmony accompaniment in gentle 5th track Golden Sorrows. Patti Scialfa provides one of the highlights on 6th track, the Buddy Miller penned, gospel tinged Shelter Me, whilst the most beautiful and traditionally Country track is the Patty Tillis number My Town Has Moved Away which is the 7th. Emmylou Harris' contribution is on 9th track Step Away which is a Willie P. Bennett lament using Emmylou's doleful vocal to full effect.

There are 14 tracks in all and each is excellent. The singing, musicianship and occasional songwriting of the three Kings Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden and Tom Wilson on this album attests to the brilliance of a folk rock/alternative country band not as well known yet infinitely superior to many of their peers. Who needs Will and Kate when you have this musical Canadian royalty?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Parachute School

If a parachute school was to open
next to my house just after midnight
[which is when I would have had a few]
I'm sure I'd be up for lessons,
bravery coming from the existential
nature of its appearance rather than the
booze, and after a suitable period of
tuition, freefalls would be my first
choice of action because that's where all the
excitement seems to be, and then I'd go for
precision landing - perhaps between the
two green sheds in the back garden
trying to avoid the car that is my only real
possession of apparent status.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Rose Hill Drive - Americana [2011]


As I've been referring today to contemporary rock bands I might as well make it a threesome and mention Rose Hill Drive who don't have a nostalgic foot dangled in the past but rather stride forward with a raw rock that takes its roots from that intrinsic sound rather than any other practitioners of it. My favourite tracks are Telepathic and Baby Doncha Know Your Man, the latter romping through its 2.35 of punkrock with enjoyable gusto.

White Denim - D

Rock Genes

Having posted about The Dallas Explosion and its 60s/70s rock lineage, along with Rival Sons, it won't be surprising to also mention White Denim who have a more established and clear genetic link to that musical past, and their album D is another great homage to/reconstruction of melodic and progressive rock that they wear with considerable technical ease.

Read reviews of this album elsewhere and you will see the influence-spotting that I am just about to do. It's only natural and there's no point trying to resist the echos that can be heard, and it's part of the fun but also the other homage when reviewing, as long as it is seen as tribute and not plagiarism; also, as I said with TDE, when there is that eclectic originality sprouting from those early rock seeds.

I hear Jefferson Airplane, Beatles, The Byrds, and also Tyrannosaurus Rex [on River To Consider], but also perhaps some Jesus Jones and The Stone Roses [on Burnished] who occupied their own more recent time-bubble wherein they and those influenced by their retrospective recreated these precursors.

The Dallas Explosion - Off To War

Brussels Explosion

This is brilliant. Based in Brussels, this would appear to be a young band who have assimilated all that is good from 60s/70s rock and are resubmitting it today with superb instrumental playing, soaring vocals and clever, clever songwriting. They say of themselves 'We’re a quartet playing dirty classic rock mixed with raging soul, a touch of psychedelia and that special Belgian surrealism', and this is a sound enough biographical taster for me.

I've been listening to the Rival Sons, having been hailed as the new gods of rock - and they're damn good - but this album has taken more of my interest, being more eclectic but also original. It doesn't have that strong rockrough lead vocal, but the variation across catchy tunes with hints from The Monkees to The Doors has a ready appeal. Excellent pounding bass-playing throughout.


People walk past the open gate then stop
turn and look back into the flame, see
me beyond in the garden chair and glow, and
assuming I'm in control, walk on to let the
fire burn. In the time from dusk's first lit match
to these embers of rotted old wooden pallets,
the full moon has risen above the shed so that it is
wholly in my late night line of sight, shimmering
though in the heat haze from the bonfire and
flecked by rising red ash before it is snuffed out.
But why I am disturbed when hearing the sound
later of others I do not see moving straight to their
cars to drive away, not pausing to care or notice
the red hot glow still scorching our ground?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Singing In The Church of Marijuana

Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter

I finished yesterday watching this documentary about Doug Weston's Troubadour club in West Hollywood. It was, for me, an engaging piece focusing in particular on James Taylor and Carol King - I am a big fan of the singer-songwriter music championed there in the early 70s, and especially James Taylor. Other troubadours appearing were Jackson Brown, Dave Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Elton John [seems anathema, but....] and Kris Kristofferson. Other trobairitzs [I've done my pedantic research] were Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt. The programme was skewed narrowly to Taylor and King at the expense of a wider canvas, but it made the programme focused.

My title comes from a technician interviewee who described the whole ambiance of this LA musical universe thus: 'The bedroom was Laural Canyon, the living room was the Troubadour, and marijuana was the church.' That's a succinct magic three in my book.

This West Coast singer-songwriter conclave had its East Coast detractors who referred to it as the 'mellow mafia' and I rather like that appellation, seeing it as an accolade for their collective creative strength rather than the sniping criticism intended.

One other quote from the programme that registered was Kris Kristofferson who said of first seeing Joni Mitchell perform there: 'I thought she was Shakespeare reincarnated.' As a Rhodes scholar I think he's entitled to his hyperbole, and I think he could still kick some ass if challenged on his observations.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Weyes Blood and the Dark Juices - The Outside Room [2011]


The ghost of Nico haunts beautifully opening track Storms That Breed, and the spooky instrumental psychedelia nails this echo to the musical mast. Second track Dream Song is like some eerie polyphony with mildly demonic bells being chimed in the background. These bells keep ringing and merge into a cash-registered rhythmic sound in Candyboy just before those haunting harmonies continue in this third song.

Former Jackie-O Motherfucker bassist and vocalist Weyes Bluhd has been fully solo-blooded on this offering. It's psychedelic and psychotic with more chimes on fourth track Romneydale in addition to background footsteps or colossal raindrops droning in some dark chamber of recorded mystery as support. Then the strummed acoustic guitar and solo voice fools with its folk lament until this too merges into rising, and again beautiful if sombre harmony.

In The Aisle of Agnitio is the scariest song, scratched and chaotic sounds opening this fifth track before spoken voice emerges. The rest is ambient and avant-garde sound, waiting for Poe to write new lyrics. The final His Song plays out to more background instrumental haze and the choric, at times discordant vocals looping in their consistent hypnotic appeal.

Listen to at night with whatever turns you on though you might find that this is all you need.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


When the mosquito went to bite,
the sweat on the chest was like a lake
so it dived and skimmed then
slipped away, taking perhaps
comfort in the small-minded
grace of such spontaneous things;
and he was in his own way relieved
with the chance promoted by heat
and perspiration, although clearly
unaware of being unassailed,
so that between this pair
there was a balancing of forces which
viewed by the relative nature of things
just about crystallises perfection.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Rascals - Search and Nearness

Just a Rascal

Of course, rascal that I am, I didn't finish my marking today before listening to all three Rascals' albums mentioned in the previous post - they were too tempting sitting there by the record player to wait for Lennie to succumb to the disappearing light, Ralph to contemplate saying 'shit', the hitcher to get krooklocked to his casual oblivion, or Shakespeare to dive for more orgasmic pearls. So I played all three to prolong the examining experience although as I write I have just finished, placing my red judgements on the last few, those final scripts assessed to the accompanying musical brilliance of Roy Harper.

Search and Nearness was today's biggest treat, as anticipated: Right On thumps out its horn-funk and gospel-soul vibrations with the volume pumped up and the song's energy feeding off the empathetic boost, and I Believe is even more gospel fuelled both in its title and the vocal harmonies supplied by Sweet Inspiration, Cavaliere penning these opening two in his distinctive if perhaps underrated style. Side one ends eclectically on drummer Danelli's jazz Nama, a track that sounds like Blood Sweat & Tears cloned with If and showcasing one of those album-cut drum solos you don't hear from today's recordings. Writing partner and vocalist Eddie Brigati, who left the band before the album was released, sings a sizzling cover of The Letter on Side two. These are my favourites but I enjoyed all the tracks and feel like I am still discovering these others after all these years and knowing those favourites so completely.

This music and marking is clearly my yin yang of fun and focus, caress and critique. Coming to the end of today's prime marking is a by now familiar experience but it has been fascinating that this year's assessing has been the first without also holding down a demanding full-time job. Whilst I also picked up extra and other examining, I have been surprised that I haven't actually finished any earlier that in the past 20 odd years of doing this kind of work. It has obviously made me reflect on and question how I ever managed to sustain this and the job at the same time, but it also demonstrates how one adjusts and uses time in different ways: it has seemed as demanding, but it's more about the mental focus than the physical act of marking.

It's quite possible that in tomorrow's post I will be receiving extra marking where Atticus, Piggy, Curley's wife, Nick and just-a-friend Bill, farting frogs, homicidal hitcher piker-uppers, grieving but beneficent Bens, heart-beating iambic pentameters, and bastard mother-fucking lovers will share their interpretive stages with a further array of musical accompaniments that I will post about when finding an interlude, or needing one!

She is Shelby Lynne

Well, it seems only fair as I've mentioned her....

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Rascals - Time Peace: The Rascals' Greatest Hits

Eclectic Examining

I've been listening to a wide variety of music today as I have also studiously and stoically soldiered on to finish marking my exam papers. To anyone who has noticed, this commitment has affected my visits and contributions to this blog, but not my listening. I not only can listen to music whilst marking, but I have to.

Today has been a good day both in terms of nearly finishing my prime marking and, as I've said, listening to an eclectic mix of music. I began by playing two very recent self-made compilations. The first is a collection of favourite 'pretty', harmonious songs, the tracklist made up from the following: Bon Iver, Peter Bruntnell, Guillemots, Joseph Arthur, Leeroy Stagger, Wes Swing, Beirut, and [it will sound surprising] Kaiser Chiefs, the beautiful but painfully emotional song If You Will Have Me to which I have referred elsewhere. The second is one of my best heavier compilations, notionally named [yes, I am this nerdish] Not Ugly, But It Sure Aint't Purty [*] Music, the tracklist made up from the following: Eric Steckel, Henrik Freischlander, The Band of Heathens, Van Der Graaf Generator, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, Warren Haynes, Mountain Heart, and Ben Harper. [*] When you've marked your ten thousanth Of Mice and Men the word 'purty' insinuates itself into a linguistic urge. Thank you Lennie.

I've also listened to Peter Hammil, a live recording; a Randy Holden solo, Blue Cheer's best guitarist, and Shelby Lynne's I Am Shelby Lynne released to considerable fanfare and promotion in 1999. I hadn't forgotten how great that album is, but enjoyed being reminded, and it is superior to so much female vocal released over recent years, though much credit goes to the collection of songs, not least the sultry track Black Light Blue, co-written by Lynne.

But my favourite listen today, pulled randomly out of one of my cd trays, was The Rascals. Their Greatest Hits album bristles with 60s 'blue-eyed' soul brilliance as well as their more pop and then psychedelic explorations. I think versions of Mustang Sally and Midnight Hour are superbly genuine, Felix Cavaliere having such a distinctive vocal. Good Lovin' is fantastic fun, and Groovin' eases summer into your consciousness despite the English grey. How Can I Be Sure is pop personified, whilst It's Wonderful, released in 1967, reflects so well that year's psychedelic musical playfulness.

I cherish my Rascals' vinyl: 1969's soulful and bluesy See with favourite tracks I'm Blue and Hold On; also in 69 the adventurous if at times pretentious double album Freedon Suite [containing the hit and significant song People Got To Be Free] where I have the cross-carrying christ poster still wrapped in its cellophane, and the great 1971 Search and Nearness with one of the funkiest songs ever written, Cavaliere's Right On. These will be tomorrow's listening, when the last 19 scripts are marked and I have the time to actually play records.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Bon Iver - Bon Iver


This is simply the most lavish and lush, thickly woven and deeply filled, wall to wall multitracked vocal and orchestrated carpet of sound spread out there at the moment.


3. Fishing

Did someone further down the Missouri
snare my bamboo fishing pole,
maybe by accident, and later
when the river slowed and lowered,
sit down calmly at its side and dangle
a line into the cold steady flow,
hook a fish I could only dream about
when so scared I'd dropped the pole into rapids
from a railway bridge up near Niobrara?
It is always possible that someone
will triumph in another's fears
and it could be this optimism that drives us on
even if we only discover it years later
when hankering after an idea of hope.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


2. Damp Patch

He walks down the street,
a damp patch on the trouser legs of
each knee where he'd knelt in the borders
tending to voluptuous flowers,
and thinks of a time when
children played on new bikes and
sold Kool-Aid from fruit-box tables,
where mothers walked babies in
polished chrome strollers,
and people laughed or hollered
friendly greetings as if tomorrow would
surely be the same, the sun shine,
grass stay green in a summer's heat
and porch doors close with graceful ease.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


1. Cul-de-sac

It's another suburban cul-de-sac
and a grown man cycles home
on his boy's bike, a full case of beer
under one arm, and it's probably
Superbowl Sunday with all the cars
parked neatly in their drives and the
men inside homes shouting and
slapping backs with free hands
[the others scooping chips through dip
or grasping an ice-cold can]
and it's the American way of life:
everything in its rightful place
with nothing territorial or in charge -
and the fear of being safe.