Monday, 31 October 2011

When you're too cool to care

Locklin for the Ladies

maybe the women are right about us

after an evening of glowering at my daughter
for such heinous offences
as having spilled milk
(i nearly cried over it)
eating her brother's baby food,
and tipping over her chair
with herself in it

i hold her on my lap
while i read her
an illustrated hansel and gretel.
viewing the last page, she says,
"is their father a girl?"
and i say, "no, of course not;
their father is a man."

and she says, "he must be a girl."
and i say, "why can't he be a man?"

and she says, "because he's smiling."

- Gerald Locklin

Steel Panther - Balls Out

Ballsy or Bollocks?

If you initially came across this cd face down and had a cursory read of the track listing, you could be forgiven for anticipating a romantic/lost love lyrical disposition with songs like If You Really, Really Love Me; Tomorrow Night and Why Can't You Trust Me. However, face up and in your face, an even more cursory image reading will still immediately shatter that expectation. Flipping over for a more comprehensive view of that set list and you'll soon be smirking or salivating - depending, I suspect, on your age - at titles like Supersonic Sex Machine [derivative and tame], Just Like Tiger Woods [comically suggestive], 17 Girls In A Row [macho fantasy], It Won't Suck Itself [rising up - excuse me - the explicit register], Let Me Cum In [yuck] and Weenie Ride [this did make me laugh out loud].

Let's deal with the music first. A glam/hair metal band, Steel Panther cut their chops as a covers group throughout most of the first decade of the new millennium until the 2009 release of Feel the Steel which in the UK sold 45,000 copies. That makes an interesting comparison with The Answer's debut album of the same year selling 30,000 copies here. This doesn't need over-analysis: it's a preference for heavy metal over rock, and that doesn't surprise me. This 80s musical reincarnation is without question effectively aped by the band. On record they're Metal personified. I haven't seen them live - but know those who have - and by all accounts they're blistering. And this album doesn't disappoint in that respect.

Now let's do a lit-crit on the lyrics. Just joking. Characterised as 'profane' on Wikipedia [!], they are certainly very naughty. Having questioned if the lyrics in Metallica/Lou Reed's album Lulu are gratuitous and puerile [asked rhetorically, because they aren't] there isn't a need to ask this of Balls Out because they so clearly are. Even the apparently innocuous If Your Really.... has the early lines If you really really really really love me/Then you really really really gotta show me/Don't whine when I put it in your booty. It's immediately much more problematic with 17 Girls.......I banged 17 girls in a grocery store and never lost my erection, no/They had to mop all sperm in aisle 3 and some poop in the fruit sec-sec-section, stinky. Do we give the band the benefit of doubt that this is comic, if salacious hyperbole? Just tongue-in-cheek? Whilst I baulk at the notion of this being 'profane', I'm not comfortable with this, and the rest of the song [the storyline is sustained], because it is patently crass. If I felt the need to construct a more convincing argument I could quote plenty of other - and worse - lyrics in support, but I won't print that here. Listen and decide for yourself. It's more than 'naughty' and I started with that as a ruse to set one pole against the other, the latter informing the crude songs dominating the lyrical focus on this album.

When the TV presenter Eamonn Holmes, interviewing a rape victim recently on the This Morning programme, can suggest that next time she take a taxi home, we have to think carefully about how men refer to women or comment in response to how they have been treated. And I'll make this simpler: Holmes is a twat and it doesn't take any thinking at all. And with respect to that statement, I won't print the cover of the album at the head of this review as I normally would.

9 Poems for Halloween

9. Changeling

Changelings, they're
Strange things,
Fakes who
All in the
Pall of death,
Steal children's
Real selves
Leaving just the
Grieving that

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Hippie Shirt 3

Remember cheesecloth? Remember anything?

Hippie Shirt 2

Still have the guitar, but not the shirt.

Hippie Shirt

Return of the Hippie Shirt - Gerald Locklin [1993]

Just read this brief tale today, a 20-year-later sequel to The Hippie Shirt. In that original story, Robert MacGregor, a 35 year old actuary, is befriended by a hitchhiking hippie who literally gives him the shirt off his back - which leads to the comic, if dramatic, dissolution of Bob's life as lived then.

In this sequel, Bob is hitchhiking across America having spent the last 20 years hanging out in the summer with the Ojibuitske Eskimos and wintering with the Oaxicoatle Indians of the Andes. His reason? Because they wore similar shirts. At least that's what he tells the two cops he meets whilst hitchhiking again all these years later, and who want to beat him up - like two decades ago - but are scared off when Bob convinces them they are being observed by satellites. It's the best moment in this sweet revisit.

Locklin is a fine poet in the great Bukowski tradition and I have always enjoyed reading his work. I've also used it in my teaching: I had the wonderful my son wants to ride the chairlift printed in a book I wrote on teaching and examining poetry, and I have used his poems as stimulus for narrative transformations - he is such a superb storyteller, usually witty but so often punching the reader with the shock of sudden truths. Here's an example from his book The Firebird Poems

a tyrant for our times

it's in his novel ham on rye now,
but i remember bukowski telling
a long time ago
how his father used to beat him,
and when he'd turn to his mother for help,
she would intone, "the father is always right."

i liked the way it sounded
and so, even though i don't beat my kids,
i do like to tell them
"the father is always right."

they tell me to get fucked.

9 Poems for Halloween

8. Wizard

Lizard eyes see
Sorcery become
Debauchery when
Potions turn
Emotions to the
Must of
Lust and
Maids are
Laid without

Gerry Mulligan - Night Lights

In The Bourbon Hours

It should be late at night, the lights dimmed to a warm glow, a large bourbon in one hand and the music of Gerry Mulligan's sextet coolly caressing the room as I write, but if it was now that time these smooth jazz touches and the bourbon's flow wouldn't be prompting me to scribe. So here I am in the morning, listening again because the aural transportation has a similar calming aura. Having been listening to Farmer, Golson and Fuller of late, I have also enjoyed visiting this 1963 recording of Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax, Art Farmer on trumpet/flugelhorn, Bob Brookmeyer on trombone, and Jim Hall on guitar. No piano, and this places these guys to the fore, especially the horns. It is the quintessence of cool. And the coolest track is the smooth Morning of the Carnival from 'Black Orpheus' where Mulligan's suspiring sound sooths in its softdeep solo along the latin groove, until the horns regroup and Mulligan reigns just over the harmonising. This is followed by In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning where Mulligan has an extended opening and beautiful blow - the track's title supporting the premise for listening - and fourth number Prelude in E Minor is another slowly paced nocturnal gem.

The cd features an additional track, a 1965 version of the opening title song, this time with Mulligan on clarinet. That solo is also sweet and engaging, but the quintet with piano and added 10 piece string section makes it more lounge and therefore mainly serves to highlight the beauty of the original and intimate set.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

9 Poems for Halloween

7. Ghouls

Ghouls it's stealing
Jewels from
Graves to
Save themselves,
Thieves who won't
Grieve anyone's
Death, and with
Breath of the
Expired eaten then
Perspired in seeping

Tom Waits - Bad As Me

Worth the Wait

This is Waits' first all-new material for 7 years and the album is a signature, accessible gem. It's all here: growl, industrial beats, bar room piano, horn umphs, and - heavens to murkatroid - the streetwise poetry of his lyrics,

Gunplay Maxwell and
Flat Nose George
Ice Pick Ed Newcomb
On a slab in the morgue
Flat Nose looked at Gunplay
And they all looked at me
With a good woman’s love we
Could have saved all three
And there ain’t enough raised right men
It takes raised right men to keep a happy hen
There ain’t enough raised right men

This snippet of the championing of women storytelling comes form Raised Right Men. I couldn't listen to the Waits' Glitter and Doom live album where the voice seemed shredded. It clearly wasn't, or wasn't terminal, and this is highlighted in the gruff but clear falsetto on third track here Talking At The Same Time.

It's simply a great album to get and listen to. The title track has Tom at his howling best with those metallic hits and sax grunts driving the beat. The following Kiss Me is a classic latenight romantic bar room growlcroon, and it is deliciously sensuous: double bass and distant tinkled piano keys wafting the atmosphere through our senses. In next track Satisfied he seems to rant against death, and in doing so invokes Mr Jagger and Mr Richards in declaring he will be satisfied before shuffling off, and this rejection of the gentle departure gets picked up in the, interestingly, Keith Richards vocal assisted Last Leaf

I fight off the snow
I fight off the hail
Nothing makes me go
I’m like some vestigial tail
I’ll be here through eternity
If you want to know how long
If they cut down this tree
I’ll show up in a song

Always good to hear there's more to come.

Metallica and Lou Reed - Lulu

Supping In A Dark Place

The Metallica and Lou Reed collaboration Lulu is without question of interest, and raises many questions. Is it musically engaging? Is it lyrically challenging/enriching? To which fan-base will it most appeal? Is its narrative gratuitous or contemporarily interpretive?

I don’t think it is musically that spectacular. Its stoner metal is as effective as you could rightly expect from Metallica but if that was the prime interest I’d go straight to any other Metallica album – there’s nothing new or stand-out here in that regard. Lou Reed’s essentially spoken narrative isn’t ‘musically’ engaging. As spoken poetry it is often hypnotic – the repetitions of phrases having dramatic impact, and the dark themes are powerful, though these will repel some and haunt others. I do not know the plays of German expressionist Frank Wedekind upon which this whole piece is based – Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box – but their description of presenting a society riven by the demands of lust and greed [cited on Wikipedia] gives you a gist of the lyrical preoccupations.

I haven’t yet fathomed how Reed’s male appropriation of the original female voice/focus is meant to skew the storytelling. There is an apparent gratuitous and puerile focal point in the lyrics. On the other hand, its dark reflection on self-loathing, suicidal thought and burial, to name a few themes, and not necessarily the darkest,  is dramatically compelling as well as possibly a nihilistic impression of human relationships. Is that necessarily contemporary? If not, what is the purpose of the re-presentation? Not knowing the original I can’t comment on whether this adds or detracts. Of course there’s nothing wrong in bringing something relatively unknown to the attention of a new audience. Are we meant to read the original after listening to the album?

I suspect the main appeal would be to a Lou Reed audience as I can’t see why Metallica fans would single this out as a significant reflection of the latter’s oeuvre. But I don’t know. I do know that Lou Reed needs a spoken vehicle for his music. Seeing a reasonably recent live performance with, I believe, Elvis Costello, it’s clear that the singing voice is shot, not that he was ever a crooner. The Lou Reed fan base would most likely be inclined to the experimental nature of this work and, as I’ve said, as performance poetry of sorts I do find it forceful. At times, Reed’s contribution sounds like later Johnny Cash, for example in Hurt, and this strangely adds to or creates some gravitas. Cheat on Me, last offering on cd1, is a good example of this, and James Hetfield’s shouted vocal adds to the brooding climax of this number. First track Brandenburg Gate on this cd is the most effectively illustrative of the union of these artists, the opening ribald lyric [oft quoted in early reviews] setting the lyrical tone, and the acoustic start – a neat tease – giving way to signature thundering metal with Hetfield again providing echoing shouts. Overall, it is an album that at the very least deserves a listen for its daring and experimentation, or just difference. Other than that, it is difficult to judge when and where you would be best placed to have that first listen. Perhaps not when the Sunday lunch is being served. Unless you sup in very dark places.

Friday, 28 October 2011

9 Poems for Halloween

6. Incubus

Incubus, like a
Calculus, will
Measure sex as
But gloats too in
Ruts and grunts
Through sleepers it
Screws leaving a
Child in

Steve Tilston - The Reckoning

Preserving Tradition

I'll keep this relatively simple and highly recommend. The guitar work is, obviously, brilliant and the songwriting always engaging. The contemporary and satirical preoccupations are lyrically welcome, though for me it is always the playing and singing - Tilston's vocal perhaps not getting the recognition it deserves in reviews and observations: his earliest material presenting him in exquisite voice; here a maturing depth often evident.

With the recent death of Bert Jansch and, not seeming that long ago, John Martyn, I think we need to cherish more our 'folk' artists still very much with us, and those like Tilston who were instrumental in establishing a guitar style that from the mid 60s to today has been so influential on other musicians as well as accounting for so much memorable existing material. This is clearly displayed throughout The Reckoning and especially in closing track and tribute to Davy Graham Ijna (Davy Ji), though listening to this I heard first Jansch because - and excuse the convolution - that is where I first heard Davy. This echo is also there because of the Nottamun Town Return which is a play on the traditional original, but again a song I heard first by Jansch. I trust my continued reference to BJ can be seen as a compliment to the evocations in Tilston's latest album, which is undeniably his and therefore inherently worth having.

Steve's website contains his own description of the songs' origins, meanings and messages:

Scott Finch & Gypsy - Haze of Mother Nature

Hendrix Haunting

Not a Halloween haunting, this is a  musical visitation from the psychedelic underworld and a happy marriage between harmony vocal and Hendrixesque guitar in the Wisconsin power trio's faithful but also independent representation of Jimi's art.

Whilst this album does contain four Hendrix tracks - I Don't Live Today, Love or Confusion, If 6 was 9 and Little Wing - the other 15 are the band's own. The harmony vocal gets its main showing in opening track Flowers in the Jungle and that's when I knew I had discovered some gestures to my musical nirvana where pretty meets heavy, as well as in the cool slow blues of 8th track Can't Live Without It.

There are a number of instrumentals, with flashback sitar in 9th track Dragnet, and as effective as these are I do think some judicious editing would have made the whole album a tighter fit. That said, early Scott Finch guitar instrumental Gypsy Waltz is a knock-out number, though more Robin T than Jimi H.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

9 Poems for Halloween

5. Vampires

Vampires it
Transpires that on
Fangs they
Hang small
Specks from torn
Necks where
Blood like a
Flood leaves
Dots as the
Spots of death's

Kami Thompson - Love Lies

Familial Love and Loss 

Kami Thompson's debut release Love Lies completes the Thompson musical production line from father Richard, mother Linda and brother Teddy. It's a familial line full of cross-album support as well as inner influence, conscious and, no doubt, subconscious.

Opener Little Boy Blue establishes that blood-trait directly with Richard's note-bending guitar work and distinct harmonising vocal helping to drive the song, one of many about lost love which in itself reflects a strong thematic tradition across this family. Third track Nice Cars drives its metaphor with sass and a gear stick stuck/what the fuck raunchy lyrical insert - essentially more heartache explored in a linguistically rich tale. Gotta Hold On gets vocal support from Rufus Wainwright, and throughout the album, Martha Wainwright, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Sean Lennon and Teddy Thompson also add support. This provides undeniable breadth to Kami's consistently strong songs, as with ninth track Never Again where the harmonies rise beautifully near the song's end - another one that Kami has characterised as self-indulgent break-up music, though as listeners we can be grateful for her emotional obsession and catharsis. Penultimate track Blood Wedding is enlivened with mandolin and more sweet harmonies, the lyric invoking her mother and which sounds most like Linda in the vocal, with the theme of lacking trust in men possibly transferring down that well-known stroyline. The final song is an echo infused version of George Harrison's Don't Bother Me and yet again concerns itself with being left alone. I hope Kami has attained her closure, though I wouldn't want this to starve the muse for future songwriting.

Top Fifty - Teddy Thompson

Teddy Thompson - Separate Ways

Teddy Thompson is my favourite contemporary solo singer songwriter, and that pits him against other greats, for example Ryan Adams who is significantly more famous on a global scale, and a significantly different artist. Teddy Thompson is quintessentially English: self-effacing, utterly ironic, lyrics lacerated by sardonic wit, and possessing the most exquisite voice. He could perhaps be seen in the Ray Davis songwriter lineage in terms of his lyrical humour, though it is more introspective than being interpretive of an English way of life.

Teddy Thompson is, and isn't a star. He is critically acclaimed and has a stalwart fan base. He is popular in the States, but again on the critical rather than stadium circuit - not that singer/songwriters commonly attain the latter, but it's an illustrative pole. His latest album Bella, reviewed here, was clearly targeted at widening that audience with its lush production values, but whilst it garnered a broad focus on release, I don't think it achieved its purpose. It is an album I like though it doesn't for me compete with my chosen one here Separate Ways, or A Piece Of What You Need. Indeed, its production detracted from the essence of his craft, though album songs played live and acoustic burst through with their innate and core excellence. It was, by the way, a little difficult to choose my 'top fifty' between these last two mentioned albums, his second and third releases, as both are excellent. Separate Ways gets the nod for reasons to follow, and it is his breakthrough collection, released in 2005.

Separate Ways contains in its title track my favourite single song of his. It is a stereotypically gentle and calm number, the tensions that create drama placed in the lyrics. Musically, it is simply but cleverly layered - the whole song, with a single strummed guitar and mirroring brushed snare at its centre [and shimmering, uncertain strings], rises throughout to its ironic chorus And I don’t care about you/If you don’t care about me/We can go our separate ways/If you want to, and it is that fourth line that bristles in its honest shifting of the blame, reinforced later by the pathetic repeat of his vulnerability The ties of love are strong/But they can be undone/And we’ll go our separate ways/If you want to. And it is this vulnerability that also rests at the candid core of much of Thompson's sarcastic self-effacement which seems to me to be wholly English. This sentiment is reinforced in the next song on the album Sorry To See Me Go where the litotes of its narrative reveals his true feelings I might be leaving soon/Away with the new moon/Just wanted to let you know/In case you might be sorry to see me to go. The classic Thompson caveat is in the In case - he so often yearns for someone else to retrieve him from his woes. The honest confessional of the whole album gets perhaps its most directly honest comment in Think Again where the presumably real break-up of its storytelling is laid bare in Walking away I feel ashamed/Thinking on what I’ve done/She was naïve and I was a sleaze/Some things can’t be undone.

Musically this album shines bright throughout and did ironically bring Thompson some of the attention he so caustically ridicules about stardom in opener Shine So Bright with the lines I wanna shine so bright it hurts/I wanna be death bed thin/Never realise the state I'm in/Walk with my head in the clouds/And be followed around by crowds. Second track I Should Get Up provides the first of two rock numbers within the otherwise balladic whole, and Thompson's guitar playing is accompanied by famous father Richard. Teddy is a fine player himself, and this is witnessed when he plays live - his acoustic touch being superb. Everybody Move It sees Thompson at his most simply humorous, poking fun at party dancing. The call to boogie begins with the opening comic if ungrammatical line Sat in the corner you could pass for dead and continues with Bump and grind, have a good time/Free yourself and lose your mind/Now the party's pumpin' and the groove is on/Grab the nearest body and move along. Hard to imagine Teddy letting his hair down like this without being terribly self-conscious. The comic sentiment is picked up a little more aggressively in the other rocker That's Enough Out Of You with the line Being happy is easy if you're dumb. This is a telling quip for someone who does seem to suffer his fair share of maudlin and mellow thoughts.

The closer Frontlines provides examples of Teddy's beautiful vocal, occasionally moving into his perfect but never overdone falsetto. This song too rises slowly, letting the voice take the fullness of its charm to superior heights. Hidden track, The Everly Brothers' Take A Message To Mary, is sung prettily by Teddy and mother Linda, this straightforward duet providing yet another uncluttered platform for Teddy Thompson's vocal to reign. I have read reviews where his voice is rated yet not necessarily praised, but a sublime example of its prowess and emotive clarity is in his duet with dad on the latter's song Persuasion. Not on this album, but worth having to cherish.

9 Poems for Halloween

4. Troll

Trolls, they're as
Droll as the
Grumps their
Humps induce;
Grins cannot
Hide their
Snide looks or the
Rejection [and
Dejection] everyone

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

9 Poems for Halloween

3. Witches

Witches, they're
Bitches, always
Grooming for
Brooming, dressing
Black to
Attack at
Night and suck
Fright from
Faces without
Traces in each blank

Johnny Winter - Roots

The Root Of All Pleasure

This is Johnny’s first album for seven years and he is back to his blues roots playing numbers by Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Son House and Muddy Waters amongst others. He is also accompanied by guest guitarists/musicians who duet to Johnny’s still wonderful playing. And he is in fine voice – it is a crystal clear recording, the performance mature to the bone and fleshed out with a lifetime of history and experience. That Johnny has shed his demons means he tours continuously, and I had the great pleasure of seeing him perform just over a year ago – helped onto stage [not me, Johnny aged then 66] and seated, but once connected to his guitar the National Grid would struggle to keep pace with his blues-powered natural energy.

Roots kicks off to T-Bone Walker’s T-Bone Shuffle, and the slide guitar of Sonny Landreth ignites the album’s riff-banter with Johnny. Bobby ‘Blue’ Band’s Further On Up The Road chugs in second with Jimmy Vivino laying down the complement. The ubiquitous Warren Haynes contributes next to Elmore James’ Done Somebody Wrong, and Johnny’s vocal can still growl out the blues with passion. Next up is Muddy Water’s Got My Mojo Workin’ where the blues harp of Frank Lotorre makes sure the title delivers its promise to the listener. This is followed by Last Night and virtuoso harp playing [it is dynamite], this time by John Popper, frontman from Blues Traveler, who slides and glides all over this Little Walter number with Johnny running up and down the neck in empathy. Chuck Berry’s Maybellene adds some rock’n’roll to the mix, and guest guitarist Vince Gill adds Country in this rousing version – Gill’s quick picking such a vivid mirror to Johnny’s speed. Susan Tedeschi offers a vocal shift in accompanying Johnny next on Jimmy Reed’s Bright Lights, Big City, her guitar shining bright too. Brother Edgar plays saxophone on the one instrumental Honky Tonk and it’s a sibling stonker. The Tedeschi family line returns when husband Derek Trucks adds his slide guitar layers to Johnny’s on Robert Johnson’s Dust My Broom. Penultimate musical marriage is Larry William’s Short Fat Fannie with Johnny’s band member Paul Nelson on guitar – and when I saw this guy play an instrumental before Johnny came on stage he demonstrated some phenomenal skills. The final track is Walter Davis’ Come Back Baby and Johnny again sings with his signature growl and heart, the organ of John Medeski filling this blues ballad with its requisite warble and then stabs of other blues heart and soul – horns and Johnny’s final guitar fling filling out the emotion on this rousing closer.

Monday, 24 October 2011

9 Poems for Halloween

2. Succubus

Incredulous, asks
When her
Tombs will house
Wombs, and the
Coitus in death's
Somnus be as
Virile and
Fertile for a

Sung to the scat-chorus line from 'I Want To Take You Higher' [boom shaka-laka-laka/boom shaka-laka-laka]:

Ur lacher-lacher-lacher/Ur lacher-lacher-lacher

Great to see the Wembley NFL game yesterday in glorious Fall weather, and enhanced by a Bears' 24-18 win over the surrogate hometeam Bucs - the Chicago Bears having been the first NFL team to play at Wembley 25 years ago in a pre-season game that I attended.

Highlights yesterday were my daughter's company; the running prowess of Bears' Matt Forte and his 145 rushing yards with a touchdown, and especially oldschool Bears' Middle Linebacker no. 54 Brian Urlacher marshaling the defence, dominating the line, and making a great interception.

The chilli-dog at Wembley was crap, but needs must: good thing I was taken to lunch earlier at the Diner for the real thing - and it was damn good - including a chocolate malt shake. Who says you ever have to grow up in culinary terms....

Saturday, 22 October 2011

9 Poems For Halloween

1. Ghosts

Ghosts, they're
Hosts to their own
Attention for the
Retention of their
Myth, as
If they
Existed, each

For the next eight days up to and including Monday 31st October [but not tomorrow when I will be at Wembley watching the NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Chicago Bears] I will post a Halloween poem from the collection Gathering published by Thornacorn Press in 1993.

If any English teachers out there read this blog - it's always possible - there is a creative writing idea for students using some of these poems [the 'tamer' ones; not, for example, the Succubus where it wouldn't be wise to be explaining the sexual proclivities of this nighttime demon] on Teachit [] and it is titled simply Halloween Poems. So if on that spooky Monday you don't have fucking targets to meet or any other shite extraneous and meaningless hurdles to leap and you fancy having some fun, you might like to try this. I also have a model for experimenting with front-of-line rhymes that uses animals rather than Halloween creatures which I'll place in the Comments section.

The cover for this pamphlet was produced by then Elizabeth Sullivan and I have also posted her original ink drawing here - thanks Liz.

The Answer Addendum, Again

The Answer

I'm having to revise my view of this band again having listened to their Revival album more closely, but quite simply more often. I think I perhaps listen to too much disparate music which prevents that process of living with a single album for a while and beginning to appreciate its nuances, and, more crucially, anticipate whilst listening because familiarity breeds that kind of important musical expectancy and appreciation.

In my initial reviewing I was adamant that The Answer do what they do brilliantly, but was less enthusiastic about the quality of songwriting. Yet now I'm getting keenly into memorable opener Waste Your Tears, happily anticipate the blues-slide, harp and stompstart of Trouble, fully enjoy the balladic teasestart to rocker and subsequent anthemic Tornado, and positively relish radioromp [courtesy Planet Rock] of Vida [I Want You].

Et sacre bleu, this will be sacrilegious to any Zed Heads out there, but another reason for my reassessment of The Answer was in response to listening today to a bootleg recording of Led Zeppelin playing at Earls Court in 1975. Naturally, so much is stunning - salivatingly stunning -  but I was also struck by the self-indulgence and excess of much protracted playing. It made me reflect on the tightness of The Answer's performances, on record and live, as well as - perhaps for the very first time - appreciate what Punk was reacting to: it wasn't just the progressive movement; it was the pomposity of rock.

Double Edged - 2. Shins

Speaking of shins, mine are whores
with enticing come-ons to any
accidental knock or scuff or outright
attack as long as new scabs and then
scarring can be added to the existing
mass destruction after the years of
blood and bruise – I mean, a stranger’s
look could rip the skin it’s so thin from
whatever is actually left of flesh on the
narrow bones, and I swear my shins
can’t last two weeks without going to war
which would also explain the axe
injury not that anyone could give a
reason no matter how hard they tried.

More Metals' Melodies

Good to see more of Feist in tonight's extended Later......with Jools Holland, and an excuse to praise her again as well as post another picture. Her performance of Bittersweet Melodies off latest album Metals was, as ever as a live act, terrific, and it confirms that the brilliance of her songwriting is shone in its brightest light when delivered live, right down to the theatre of her backing singers' presentation of dress code and coy looks at one another [female trio group Man Mountain]. There's an abundance of cleverness here that begins with the song composition, is perfected in the performance, and embellished with an astute perception of how stagecraft giftwraps the package. Stunning.

Ben L'Oncle Soul - Same

Retro, neo, nu, or simply Soul

The recent Later....with Jools Holland exposure of this fine French soul vocalist will presumably act as the catalyst needed to promote his album here. It worked for me.

Apart from opener Jack White's Seven Nation Army, this is a collection of self-penned [with assistance] songs and they are authentic enough Motown/Stax sounds to warrant the appellation 'Soul' to his name and album, though some commentators out there have seen this as a little naff.

It is interesting that the songs sung in French have their own nuances: it's a language suited to the sensuous nature of soul. I guess. I don't speak French, but it sounds fine to me. Of course that's because his voice is without question soulful. Playing and production throughout is excellent too [Come Home is a good example].

Like stripping away unnecessary prefixes, this is quite simply great stuff: funky at times and serious about its precursor influences.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Double Edged - 1. Choppng Wood

Having hit myself with the axe
twice in the space of a few weeks - the
first a glancing blow off the shin (with a
blunt blade to thank for that) and
the second a follow-through onto the
bridge of my left foot, but neither
thankfully a gash or a slice or worse
an amputation –
                           I may give up
chopping wood, or learn to be a
surgeon should the former good decision
not prevail, because I don’t believe this
favourable fortune or being crap in my
swing is a meaningless forewarning.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Andy Fraser Band - Andy Fraser Band [1975]

Signature Sound

At 15, Andy Fraser began a brief tenure playing bass in the John Mayall Bluesbreakers, was considered a ‘little snot’ - Andy’s words - by drummer Keef Hartley, and smoked his first joint with Mick Taylor in Holland having left school and been given permission by the court to tour abroad as a minor: providing he would be in bed by a specified time [1]. He wasn’t tucked up as agreed that night. At 16, and able to go to sleep when he pleased, he was a member of new band Free.

It is as bass player with Free that Andy Fraser is understandably and rightly best known. Perhaps less well known by many is his significant songwriting partnership with Paul Rodgers, producing and co-writing, for example, theirs and one of the world’s biggest rock hits All Right Now, but also so many more outstanding Free numbers, a fact I have already mentioned in writing about their first great album Tons of Sobs.

Andy split from Free in 1971, rejoined briefly in ’72 and then left again. He flirted with starting new band Toby, recording some tracks; jammed and might have produced something spectacular with Frankie Miller in his Rumbledown Band [*] - but didn’t - and then went on to record the album First Water with guitarist Chris Spedding in their band Sharks.

In 1975, Fraser released two albums as the Andy Fraser Band, the first eponymously and the second titled In Your Eyes. It is this first release that I want to write about here. It is excellent. The songwriting, not surprisingly, is superb and without doubt reflects the signature Free sound of which he was so instrumental [incidental pun]. Whilst some reviewers don’t see this clear continuation, I can’t comprehend how that’s possible. More surprising than the songwriting thread is how Andy’s vocal also echoes that of Paul Rodgers – not exactly, obviously – but for me it is a strong rock voice, and Andy acknowledges Rodgers as a natural influence as well as many others, Frankie Miller included.

Opener Don’t Hide Your Love Away immediately stamps the signature sound: driving rhythm with thumping bass and the melodic line sung strongly above this. Second Changed Man is bluesier and uses effects on the bass to produce a ‘new’ sound within the funky whole. Ain’t Gonna Worry is back to the signature sound of Free ballads and would have nested easily in any of their albums. The same applies to seventh track Keep On Loving You.

Eighth Love Is All Around is interesting in that Fraser’s vocal is at its most characteristic, and therefore clearly not a Rodgers’ clone, and definitely not as distinctive. The chorus ‘all around’ carries the stamp I have been proclaiming, but the bass effects again provide that difference too: what I trust I am characterising is a songwriting and performance that bears the praiseworthy and recognisable roots of Fraser’s Free period yet with movements away from this – but not too far. Not until the second release In Your Eyes.

[1] interview with Dmitry M. Epstein, DMME.NET – Classic Rock and Beyond
[*] Listen to Kossof playing I Don't Know Why The Sun Don't Shine in this band here:

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Lianne La Havas ft. Willy Mason - No Room For Doubt (Official Video)

Steve Tilston - Life By Misadventure

Offering More Than Accolades

Later....with Jools Holland continues to be an excellent music television programme introducing new and established artists. Last night I enjoyed seeing and will seek to hear more of the new-to-me Lianne La Havas [*] and Ben L'Oncle, as well as the brilliant Feist who always gives a knock-out live performance [with more, hopefully, to see in this coming Friday's fuller airing].

Last week's programme, which I caught as a Sunday repeat, presented one of England's finest singer and  songwriter guitarists, Steve Tilston. He is pretty much unknown and unsung more widely, so this was a welcome showcasing of sorts, and Steve performed the song Oil and Water from his latest album The Reckoning. Not that you would have known the title of the album from Jool's quick flash of the cd [he does call it 'wonderful' but fails to name it].

It seems Tilston was on the programme primarily to talk about and honour Bert Jansch who died recently. As a contemporary who knew and worked with Jansch, this was a fitting invite and tribute, but it still seemed a shame that in the interview with Tilston, little was actually said about his work, or, as I've mentioned, the fact Jools didn't even name his album. Steve Tilston was, however, most articulate and generous in his accolades about his friend Bert Jansch.

This is by way of writing briefly about Steve Tilston's 1987 album Life By Misadventure which I purchased recently after reviewing his first two albums here. I hadn't heard it before and am delighted to have sought it out because it is excellent.

Opening track These Days is an anti-Thatcher protest song and it's always a bonus to follow an artist whose political sensibilities are spot on, though it would be an obvious antithesis to me for any 'artist' to sympathise with the politics and consequences of her mindset, as well as, by simple extrapolation, those of the current philistines in power. And that includes the tag-alongs.

Second track Nowhere To Hide features superb slide guitar, and the next two tracks Here Comes The Night and I Call Your Name, are beautifully reminiscent of Steve's earliest work, with Tilston focusing here and throughout the whole album on playing classical guitar, brilliantly. Instrumental tracks Lazy Tango and Tsetse Fly Shuffle showcase more of this fine guitar virtuosity, the later a rather jovial little offering.

In the sleeve notes to this 2001 cd compilation, Steve Tilston writes that he does not have a personal favourite, but he does cite eighth track Polonaise as a song 'that as a writer I am proud of' and the song itself refers to his time in Poland as part of a 7-piece band for the Ballet Rambert.

The final and additional track on this cd compilation is the 23 minute Rhapsody which filled one side of the 1990 instrumental album Swans at Coole. It is called a Celtic suite and features more of Steve's love of classical guitar playing at the time as well as performing on an arpeggione, a guitar played with a bow. It's not quite the same as Jimmy Page......

[*] You can download for free a copy of her four-track Live in LA ep here - all you have to do is sign-up and you get an email link:; the video clip above this posting was added after writing this - I don't know how to place it 'after', or embed, to make chronological sense!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Something she said,
so slowly, it was the sound
of asking without a question,
and I asked my own
in not speaking, being her stranger
and she just someone passing too;
but on reflection, we might have
survived the impasse had she
suggested more substance than sighs,
more sass in the supposing, and
I too could have sustained a
dialogue that enlarged.
She saw something in me; I
suspected too much in silence.