Friday, 30 September 2011


This month’s built-in cliffhanger: a verbal punch
from a steamy stenographer incanting Adolf,
her drunken handyman.

Once a lapdancer, Sue incants her Silly drunken Adolf!
through a loudspeaker, loudspeaking his slippage,
his handyman’s perverse Aenid

He is inelastic.
A jesting slippage? A gap. She loudly stenographs

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Willy Vlautin - Lean On Pete

Third Triumph

This third novel consolidates Vlautin's skill and significance as a contemporary writer and it also continues the stylistic American tradition of simple storytelling in terms of naturalistic dialogue and straightforward expression. The honest and believable first person narrative of 15 year old Charley Thompson provides the perfect vehicle for such simplicity, but of course whatever the techniques and personas and situations used, the depth of feeling and meaning is conveyed with an immediacy and emotive impact that is compelling.

Charley's story is similar in many respects to the themes and contexts of Vlautin's previous two novels: journey as escape and self-discovery; damaged lives; hardship [against the self, both physical and mental, but especially loss and death], and the kindnesses, indifferences and nastiness of humanity.

It isn't a significant difference, but I don't feel this story is either as bleak or as hopeful - Vlautin's potent novelistic paradox - as its predecessors. That isn't to say it is neutral. Charley's hardships are many and continue to come at him, but apart from two specific moments of violence he copes well [for his age] and we as readers are not made to dwell on these as Charley continues to move forward and beyond these quickly - though not in the physical reality of his trek across significant distances. Nor is it as thematically hopeful in as much as although Charley encounters many examples of kindness and support I don't feel the book ends with such a certain affirmation of this - though the reader is allowed to decide/imagine for themself.

The novel is rich in its ensemble of characters with more variety and range than in the previous two books. Charley is, as I've said, totally believable and he is also hugely likable in his vulnerability, work ethic, survival instinct and youthful exuberance.

Horses and horseracing are an interesting contextual reality for much of the story and Vlautin has clearly used his interest in and knowledge of this to provide yet more credible and engaging settings for the book. There is also a brilliant pattern of experiences - many shown quickly or even just recalled by Charley in reminiscences with others - which seem to tumble out of Vlautin's own actual experiences. That or it is just more from his rich and vivid imagination. It's a wonderfully 'easy' read and in many ways for me as rewarding from that simple experience as much as the heartfelt tale.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Story Of Bend

This endogenous bend -
primordial parabola - as farfetched as
a davit from which to hang and mull on

the juice of neurosis.
Bent to a moronic
circle, primordial,

the hub of its
farfetched parabola is wrapped round
this rotund saga.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Meg Baird - Seasons on Earth

Time Machine

Meg Baird still rides the Espers time machine on this solo effort and transports the listener back again to 70s ethereal folk. A modern nuance, however, is the sweet pedal steel of Marc Orleans on track Share [and opener Babylon] which is otherwise bathed in gentle harmonies like folk legends Trees, and elsewhere Baird's confident acoustic is complemented by dobro and other electric guitars, like the excellent Stars Climb Up The Vine.

Even Rain has echos of Joni Mitchell songwriting and voice, another one of the album's many welcome references/tributes to a folk past. Penultimate track Steam is the most electric and slightly countrified, again benefiting from the Orleans pedal steel both as driving rhythm and then delicate additions. Closer Song For Next Summer is awash with plucked acoustic guitar and Baird's whispery to bell-clear vocal variations.

The chorus Beatles and the Stones made it good to be alone from the song titled after the first part of that rhyming line perhaps best sums up the ideal listening experience for this album: a quiet and meditative self-indulgence; a relaxation in the time-warp that is Meg Baird's 70s folk recreation.

Sunday, 25 September 2011


Dharma bartender, indefatigable
stowaway of whimpers with
your teaspoon-stir of ‘oh’ -

where is your recalcitrance?
What artillery now hoots
like a filly on the soft trammel?

You are a medley of squint and
whimper in the fogy crania: the
gerontology of indefatigable ‘huh’.

Big Harp - White Hat

Omaha Son

Here's a great, completely unadorned but simply and superbly played album by a husband/wife duo from the place of my birth, Omaha, Nebraska.

The singing of Chris Senseney does it most for me. There's a rasp and a depth that reminds me of someone else I can't recall - try as I have whilst listening. Suffice to say, it's excellent, and track Out in the Field puts it on fine and varied display with a Tom Wait's range of squeals and screams without Wait's bass gravel. I've also heard Tim Hardin and John Sebastian in other songs.

The simplicity is showcased in a track like opener Nadine which sounds as if it's recorded in an empty room with upright piano in a corner and Chris singing into a single mic. Perfect. Second track Everybody Pays introduces more instrumentation but it is the vocal that again dominates. Is it Bill Withers I hear too? There's a baritone echo of more recent Chris Smithers. I just can't put my aural finger on it, but the prominence demands recognition.There's some great wild guitar playing in All Bets Are Off.

One of the best 'new' voices/albums I've heard in a while.

Top Fifty - Free

Free - Tons Of Sobs

As we all know, the album begins with the beautiful and acoustic slow Rodgers ballad Over the Green Hills [Part I] with its gorgeous harmony rise and then suddenly, out of nowhere, comes the chugging and pulsating guitar, bass, drums and piano beat of Worry, and one of rock's greatest debut albums is launched - indeed greatest rock albums of all time.

I first heard Free on The Old Grey Whistle Test and despite my research I can't find what year this was. And it was Paul singing Over The Green Hills [the 'complete' version I think] that excited me most - another example of my love of 'pretty' music having its impact. It was the voice of course that made its instant impression too, and soon after I bought the album Tons Of Sobs.

Third track Walk In My Shadow is signalled by the wail of Kossof's guitar and the thumping simple bluesbeats continue. Kossof's guitar is staccato and edgy until it dances around Fraser's three repeated rhythms and takes over from Rodgers until he returns to woawoo woawoo with a voice turning all sounds immaculate.

You don't need your horses baby, you got me to ride/You don't need your feathers baby, I'll keep you warm inside and the Rodgers/Fraser writing partnership gets its first metaphor-laden spot: pre-politically correct ethnic naming of Wild Indian Woman and with a simplicity to presage so much memorable songwriting excellence to come.

Fifth track Goin Down Slow by St Louis Jimmy is a slow blues around which the album seems to revolve because the blues is such a fundamental part of Free's early sound. Kossof keeps it so simple and yet dynamic throughout. One of the greatest Rodgers/Fraser songs I'm A Mover is the sixth, and the Fraser bass lines do their brilliant walking up and down the line. Seventh The Hunter is one os the strongest versions out there.

Perhaps my favourite on the albums is the Rodgers /Fraser Moonshine. Another slow and simple blues, Kossof's guitar haunts in the background whilst Paul and Andy lay down the foundations. Kirk's drums roll heavily to introduce another succinct Kossof solo.

The album closes on a return to Over the Green Hills [Part 2] and it is as if the 34 vibrant minutes wrapped within this sombre song's warm embrace have been an outburst, an eruption to announce the following lava flow wherein we were all melted by its advancing glow.

I never got to see Free live but I've seen Paul Rodgers twice: once in Cardiff [1993] at the launch of the Muddy Water Blues album [with Steve Lukather on guitar] and in Poole [1997] at the launch of Now. Outstanding both times, naturally.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Say aloha to the legacy of a congenial
athlete who fondly whipped a councilwoman (a buffoon,
wrapped up as dapper as a man in China).

This congenial destiny.
How to wrap up the anniversary of such descent?
A graven image: athlete on lithium –

feed, toss, hit.
Congenially dapper?
It involves woe.

The Waterboys - An Appointment With Mr Yeats

Ambitious Appointment

Speaking of poetry and music in the previous post, I should mention this altogether more ambitious and literary example which is Mike Scott's long-held and now realised ambition to set music to the poetry of W B Yeats, having had occasional dabblings and then presented as a concert experience only.

I've never been a Waterboys/Mike Scott fan - don't know way, just haven't taken to the folkanthem style, or perhaps just not heard enough to make an informed judgement. I'm impressed with this album but I'd be dishonest in saying that I enjoy it wholly as music. However, at a time when I have been arguing against slovenly singing I should applaud the precise enunciation of Scott's singing here - the very least he could do in honour of such brilliant, evocative writing - and it is challenging but ultimately rewarding to listen to such sustained intrigue and quality in a set of lyrics. The precision and clarity works well, for example, in Song of Wandering Aengus, and perhaps the slower pace allows the listener to follow and absorb. I'm listening now as I write and this is actually a lovely song and I need to listen to the whole album more so consider this review - at this point - an initial impression.

A Full Moon in March is used more to provide some engaging organ swirls and then simply repeat the title as a chorus so not all tracks treat the poetry as sacrosanct. Sweet Dancer is similar is relying on repetition and is rather nondescript as a song, though the female vocal of Katie Kim does provide some variation and depth. The Lake of Innisfree is one of the better tracks with a slow steady beat and violin bee swirls turning to fuzzed lead providing a genuinely atmospheric and bluesy delivery of the famous words. September 1913 also uses wild violin and an increasingly emotive vocal to present the anger in Yeats' reflection on the Dublin Lock-out.

The two closing tracks work extremely well. Penultimate Let The Earth Bear Witness is again quite emotive in delivery with a building horn played as the song ends to its repeated lines from another voice, and here the repetition adds genuine impact. Closer The Faery's Last Song works similarly with voices echoing one another and flute accompaniment this time. It is quite simply a beautiful and gentle vehicle for the poetry and provides an ending with distant female vocals and the sound of wind blowing through the song as a final calming atmospheric statement.

And if you have been hearing the gist of my altering impressions as I continued to listen and write you'll know that I have increasingly warmed to this album.

The Pine Box Boys - Tales From The Emancipated Head

Bloodgrass, apparently

Poetry and music - a heady mix, and that's my only pun this time around.

This Poesque musical nightmare is more tongue-in-cheekflap than glorying in actual gore. I initially thought from the descriptions that it would be in the Hank Williams III wild vein of cowpunk or some sort of gothpunk but it is, apparently, named by the band as bloodgrass and that countrified nomenclature is apt for the countryrock tunes. Each is introduced by the poetic narrator whose rhyming couplets signal the clever playfulness of the whole. The songs themselves are entertaining if not outstanding, and the storytelling is a significant factor. Pretty Little Girl has an Alex Harvey vocal tone that morphs - not that it's any huge distance - into Jim 'Dandy' Mangrum, and if you like that gruff sound, as I do, then this too adds to the appeal.  The Doomer has a King Crimsonesque machinegun drum&guitar duetting that foregrounds the solid musicianship throughout, and closer Blood has the most 'serious' vocal and delivery, sounding like Guy Clark, apart from the repeated lyrics of so much blood. You'd expect it all to be curdling, but it's more cuddly in the poetry and somewhat comic narratives.

Bunch of cool looking dudes.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Both Buffleheads

[in celebration of the great NFL's start to the season]


Bufflehead the quarterback
with a prosthetic noggin
taxis on the runway of his own travail.

He is prodigal in rosy dreams,
brinkmanship on a tramway to the
eulogy of his own verdict.

Ours shouts different:
Bufflehead is seltzer in a sequel
fizzing through its self-taxonomy.


Awesome touchdown for
Bufflehead - what devious
metamorphosis caused his

evolution? A pupal slog
from singe to fire,
this is Bufflehead’s vault over

wilt on wilt and jog into
awesomeness, his
devious manumission.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs - Alone In This Together

Pearl Jam Seal of Approval

Another slice from the luxury loaf of ever-increasing americana/country rock bands out there, baked with heartfelt feeling and the added seeds of skilled songwriting and musicianship. Title track Alone In This Together is propelled after its balladslow opening by guest Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, and apparently the rest of the band are fans along with other musical luminaries [she was 'discovered' busking outside a cafe in Ellensburg Washington at age 16].

Star Anna's vocal rasp makes an interesting comparison with Joss Stone in that it has the same depth but without the melodrama and unnecessary vocal pyrotechnics still used by the latter. Anna's voice is often softened by gentle harmony too [not necessary, just providing variety], and band The Laughing Dogs provide rock solid support and a fine alt country platform for these honest sounding and unpretentious songs. An early favourite is Gold and Silver.

The Gourds - Old Mad Joy

Just Joyous

The Gourds have been on the scene for 17 years and I must confess I don't know their music that well and I have no idea why not. I have dipped in and out of albums and always enjoyed, but nothing would stick. Old Mad Joy has changed that lack of adhesion and though it might be more of the same it has certainly struck me this time around just how brilliantly eclectic and joyous the band is.

That eclecticism may account for not putting a finite finger on their sound over that time, but the kaleidoscope of music on this album delights throughout. In fact there is so much echoing of other performers that the rich variety would seem like thieving pastiche if it wasn't so consistently spot on.

To account for this it seems easiest to romp through the lot: opener I Want It So Bad is upbeat and funky with stabs of accordion; 2nd Drop the Charges is a garage rocker a la Frank Zappa in the chorus 'Oh Drop the Charges'; 3rd Two Sparrows is a beautifully sung folk ballad with sweet harmonies and sweeter violin strains; 4th Drop What I'm Doing is a Rolling Stones' rocker; 5th Haunted is a pedal steel driven country stomp; 6th Melchert is like a solo Keith Richards; 7th Ink and Grief is another gorgeous ballad sounding like Tom Petty and with perfect harmonies and pedal steel; 8th Peppermint City is a funky blues; 9th Marginalised is Mellencamp; 10th and 11th, respectively You Must Know and Eyes of a Child, could be performed by The Band, especially the latter, and the fact that the album was recorded at Levon Helm's Barn could go some way to explaining this.

No doubt other listeners will hear other influences/echos, but the success of the whole is in the complete freshness and craft in all the joyous performing.

Kevin Costner & Modern West - From Where I Stand

From Where I Stand It's Not Looking That Good

This really is easy-listening, formulaic country/indie pop. Costner's voice is pleasant enough but it is light and ordinary, unlike, for example, the deeper growl of fellow filmstar Jeff Bridges whose eponymous album has much more variation and distinctive style compared with this, and even not compared with this!

It is hard to find any stand-out song on this album. That's not true: it isn't possible. They all merge in their placid familiarity and cliched lyrics. Hurricane Rain tries to inject some umph. Let The River Carry Itself  is rather insipid.  Let's Go Tonight [featuring Nena] makes no significant use of the extra voice. Cleo At The Wheel starts well but its repetitions of 'Drive On!' simply mock the attempt at gusto - the storyline deserves more sass than what's delivered.

Acoustic closer The Angels Came Down [remastered] foregrounds Costner's vocal with the most impact on the whole album - a relative term - but the lyrical drivel about war, angels, heaven and souls just smacks of a simplistic thinking that panders to an audience that believes in this kind of cosy distancing from reality. I'm a little surprised at this, though I guess I shouldn't be when thinking of a film like Field Of Dreams, which is an ironic observation because I love that film! And I do like Costner as an actor - not always - and it hasn't been easy to be so negative about this album, but it just doesn't present anything new or special or even distinctive in conveying the familiar.

Superheavy - Superheavy


It's a supergroup in name only because the various parts are so disparate and, ironically, because of their distinct entities they do not gel in any knock-out symbiosis - they do their things together and effectively but still distinctively and as a listener I think you either like those individual bits that you hear in the mix rather than appreciate as some genuine amalgamation of talents.

The grouping of Mick Jagger, Josh Stone, AR Raham, Dave Stewart and Damian Marley is significant but ultimately singular in that each plays spotlight parts rather than casts a broad beam of unified light. And occasionally the voices fight with rather than complement one another.

I quite like Mick Jagger solo and if you share this view than the Superheavy vehicle will appeal even more because at times it is Mick clearly driving. For example, Energy apes guitar licks from Under Cover of the Night, and I Don't Mind could be from any Jagger solo album. Single Miracle Worker works a formulaic rather than miraculous reggae beat to reasonable effect with Jagger and Stone vocals offering their recognisable qualities.

All this said, I quite like title track Superheavy with its reggae-rap and beat as well as Joss Stone's soulful interjections. Indeed, I quite like Joss Stone, and her increasing maturity as an artist takes further steps here with creditable vocal contributions adding to the overall impact. This isn't ever going to be a great album, but it is full of production and earnest endeavour, and in the background it will still rock your incidental listening.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


Imagine how his diabolic oration flattens
a restoration of the larynges
and its authoritative cackle of bias.

Transference advises such autism of restoration,
flattens translation to a peep of
moon, ditto zeroed.

It’s a modern cyptanalysis of a gripe
and self-bias
that always translates to zero.