Thursday, 31 May 2012

Willie Nelson – Heroes

Rollin' and Smokin' With Ol' Willie

Another aural treadmill traverse tonight, this time striding with the quintessential Country rhythms of Willie Nelson’s recent, glorious album Heroes. At 79, Willie is still crooning out the most sublime songs with a little bit of outlaw sensibility here and there [Roll Me Up] and with classic Country melody. Synonym son Lukas offers support throughout – and it is a more dynamic duo than when Willie supports on his boy’s albums – and there is further help provided by the likes of Merle Haggard, Snoop Dog [with smoking proclivities rather than any Country affiliations], Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, Sheryl Crow, Ray Price and others.

Opener A Horse Called Music is a gorgeous cowboy lament with Merle Haggard, and next Roll Me Up [and smoke me before I die] keeps the proceedings lively and irreverent. There is a clutch of beautiful lovelorn songs, like third That’s All There Is To The Song. Fourth No Place To Fly is another painful love confession and the father/son singing of the Nelsons resonates with the varying experience of loss and how to tug us along with the sorryful narrative. This is followed by the two again on Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her [but every morning her memory fades away], so more from the heartache of such familiar themes.

Sixth track Tom Wait’s Come On Up To The House, sung as a superb Country gospel, sees Crow providing emotive female vocal support, and it might have been endorphins aroused by the brisk walking [my back is too fucked to run anymore] but I had goose bumps listening to this on full volume to drown out the treadmill’s noisy swirl. Pearl Jam’s Just Breathe sits more comfortably within this whole album than on its own, but I struggle with the cover of Coldplay’s The Scientist, but that is largely down to my antipathy to their latter work. But with lines like Come on back Jesus and pick up John Wayne on the way from Come On Back Jesus, the Country ideology is, thankfully, the predominant feature of this wonderful album.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Joe Bonamassa - Driving Towards the Daylight

Briefly Examining the Blues

Exam work has been demanding and listening to music has been constrained, or more correctly has been restricted to the radio. But I listened today to most of Bonamassa's 13th album release Driving Towards the Daylight on an early evening treadmill escape from online standardising, moderating wayward marking, phone calls to guide and support, listening to scripts being read aloud, and pursuing my own prime marking load.

It's another great album from a great artist. His superb guitar work is surely beyond question. I used to enjoy his Planet Rock radio programme where he talked knowingly about the influence on his playing of other great guitarists and how he would always illustrate by playing perfectly in the style of his then focus. He possesses the true artist's gifts of instinct and work ethic.

There isn't time to review the album and you should just make sure you listen to it if you like soaring rock blues. There are covers of Howlin' Wolf and Robert Johnson - hardly a surprise - but also Tom Waits. In mentioning his expert knack of fully knowing and emulating great guitar styles, Joe delivers a fine echoing tribute to Gary Moore with the ballad A Place In My Heart that so clearly takes Parisian Walkways as its emotive model.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Child of God - Cormac McCarthy

More Travels With Cormac

I’ve just started reading The Crossing, second in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. Those following this blog will know I started reading his work with No Country for Old Men, and then All The Pretty Horses. I have written about the wonderful, lengthy compound sentence structures he uses in that latter novel mentioned, and he continues with these in The Crossing.

I am writing now briefly about Child of God, his novella that I have just finished. In looking for a copy of a cover to post with this, I read that the book was written in 1974 [I hadn’t looked when I read!]. Shows how stupid I am: I perceived of him as a modern writer, in a recent time sense, not the literary one of which he clearly is ‘modern’. It must have been prompted by a sense of the recent movie of NCFOM, and The Road, which I haven’t yet read. And ATPH was written in 1992. It hadn’t struck me that he had started writing and was published in the sixties. And I have only really taken note of him this year. Astonishing.

Child of God is a brilliantly and at times beautifully written story of the disgusting and despicable Lester Ballard, a man-thing who roams and ruts and routs around the hill country of East Tennessee. I’m not sure that there is a classic tension in what we as readers feel about this nasty protagonist, who is never even an anti-hero, and who never seeks our forgiveness or understanding either consciously or otherwise. I don’t believe McCarthy does. Ballard’s isolation both socially and physically in the story isn’t compromised by any authorial hand-holding. You must read this to experience the degradation for yourselves. The only one of two palliatives I can offer is that there are moments of humour. But they don’t last long.

The other is the writing style. At times, this sickening story is expressed so poetically that this could provide the only chance of being serenaded to some kind of empathy, but it is never about a Macbeth who is given salvation and redemption though a heightened language. There are many styles too, from vivid description to first person vernacular by unidentified speakers. Near the end, the sheriff and his deputy think and express themselves as templates for the Sheriff in No Country for Old Men. Here, fairly randomly, are two poetic narrations: the first about fireworks –

High above their upturned faces it burst, sprays of glycerine flaring across the night, trailing down the sky in loosely falling ribbons of hot spectra soon burnt to naught. Another went up, a long whishing sound, fishtailing aloft. In the bloom of its opening you could see like its shadow the image of the rocket gone before, the puff of black smoke and ashen trails arcing out and down like huge and dark medusa squatting in the sky

 and the second, hounds attacking a boar –

Ballard watched this ballet tilt and swirl and churn mud up through the snow and watched the lovely blood there in its holograph of battle, spray burst from a ruptured lung, the dark heart’s blood, pinwheel and pirouette, until shots rang and all was done

There are countless more, some where the poetry is more lyrically in tune with the qualities being described, others even more antithetical in the grotesque juxtapositions of beautiful language and horrific events/situations. In this respect, there is schizophrenia in the reading, and I highly recommend the madness.

Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius - The Next World

Se Ven Ties

Sev en ties / Se ven ties: three syllables, or three sounds – I suppose this makes it apt as a mantra. A music mantra. Music does not need to evoke the sound of the seventies to win my favour, but it can. Or invoke the sound of the seventies.

The violin as rock lead instrument is a seventies speciality, and I have addressed this elsewhere so will not return to details now. New York band Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius has a lot of the seventies in its sound, not least the electrified violin of the band’s leader, but there is also bluegrass and folk – which is quite timeless – that dances around with the progressive and fusion layers. The violin Joe uses has seven strings: se ven / sev en.

Joe plays all the strings with virtuoso variation, and he sings. It is an excellent band and the album’s eleven tracks are all fine songs. Two great instrumental tracks are Ballad for Ding Bang and Road Rage, the first with melancholic moments that lead to an electric end, and the second plugged into the grid from the start. There is obviously a hint of Curved Air here and there, but that is an inevitable consequence of the precursor echo. There are many other progressive ricochets, as well as a tinge of West Coast in occasional harmonies. 7 out of Seven.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Seventies Again

BBC Sounds of the 70s 2

Another slice of seventies nostalgia on tonight's BBC Sounds of the 70s 2, and if you missed it, chase it down with a snorter or two on iplayer. A mainly live set of archive footage apart from the two mimed Top of the Pops selections that bookend this fine blast from the past:

Alice Cooper
The Faces
Bad Company
Thin Lizzy
Black Sabbath

Monophonics - In Your Brain

Summer Soul Symmetry

Today was a suggestion of summer with the warmth and sun - sounds enough, but May's grey length has cast a long shadow of doubt - but other good shadows have been thrown by this energising light of hope for at least one more week of the same to remind us we don't live at one of the Poles, and Monophonics, who hail from the San Francisco Bay Area, cast their own sunny sense of something special, this time the psychedelic and sweet soul/funk of the seventies so that listening to their latest release In Your Brain does just that: gets inside the head and mixes sounds of old soul and summers gone to provide a template for tomorrow. There's A Riot Going On they sing and things are hotting up finally.

Robin Gibb

Sad to hear of the news of Robin Gibb's death.

I have always been a fan of the music of the Bee Gees, and Robin's songwriting partnership with brothers Barry and Maurice is a significant part of that, as well as in the major contribution to the world of popular music this represents. Those who follow this blog will know I have a considerable fondness for harmony and ballads, and all-time favourites of mine are,

I've Gotta Get a Message To You
I Started a Joke
How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
How Deep Is Your Love

Robin's tremulous tenor/falsetto also made a massive contribution to the enduring quality of these great songs. Various commentators today have compared Robin and his brothers' songwriting partnership with Lennon and McCartney and I'll go along with that. Even the move to Disco, and to each their own.

Culinary Hit


Taking a brief exam break, I think it is worth mentioning that my most 'popular' blog posting to date - if I am judging the number of site hits correctly [and it is simply noting the highest number next to a single posting as far as I can work out] - hasn't been one about music, which I could have reasonably hoped, or poetry, which would have been personally rewarding, but is instead my posting Taking The Biscuit. Whilst this mentions as a ruse the band Cracker, it is simply a reflection on American graham crackers and my discovery of their British equivalent, the digestive biscuit.

For breakfast this morning I had black pudding, fried egg and fried potatoes. Lunch will be fruit. Tonight I shall be eating a chicken curry.

Let's see what bites this gets.

Friday, 18 May 2012

State of Sass

Just listening to a greatest hits of Donna Summer. I was never a huge fan, but no one who likes music could ignore the impact and excellence of stunners like Love To Love You Baby, Could It Be Magic, and I Feel Love. Even more so State of Independance which has just played and I am now replaying with its rousing repetition of the anthemic melody. As she provided so much sexuality to synthesised sound, Summer is now surely singing in Sass Heaven. Amen.

Davis On Fornicating With Presidents

Not sure why this came up as a link on today's Guardian page [seems to be written in September 2011], but it did, and it is interesting, so here's a taster from that blog entry which one hopes is true

His explosive wit

Davis was a man of few words. When he did speak, his words often had a similar effect to a hand grenade being lobbed into the room. In 1987, he was invited to a White House dinner by Ronald Reagan. Few of the guests appeared to know who he was. During dinner, Nancy Reagan turned to him and asked what he'd done with his life to merit an invitation. Straight-faced, Davis replied: "Well, I've changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done except fuck the president?"

And here's the link if you wish to read more:

I am heavily into exam work at the moment and thus my own blog entries have ceased. No one seems to be sobbing into their empty aweless moments, so I will be returning when I do.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Cracker – Kerosene Hat

Collectively Chameleon

And now for the album itself – not one of the greats for me – yet in the early 90s this had enough heaviness to become a part of the rock renaissance I have been writing about recently: but it is more punk than grunge, the opening three tracks, including single Low, leaning loosely to the former.

What really appealed was the title track, a languid narrative with one of those obtuse storylines that pulls you into its uncertain depths, the guitar lick providing a balladic rock anchor,

How can I fly with these old doggy wings
While the magpie sings some shiny song?
Old corn face, row of teeth
She says sweetly to me in the elevator

Everything seems like a dream
And life's a scream

Here come old Kerosene Hat
With his ear flaps waxed, a-courting his girl
Come clattering in here on your old cloven skates
With that devilish spoon

Everything seems like a dream
And life's a scream
When you're submarine

So don't you bother me, death
With your leathery ways and your old chaise lounge
Wickerman's fence of leathery tyres
And the cook's gone bad, started several fires

Everything seems like a dream
When you're submarine

Head like a stream, she says softly to me
From the rattling chair
"Bring me a steak and my old pair of crows
My medicine lamp"

Everything seems like a dream
So life's a scream

This is followed by another folkrock song Take Me Down To The Infirmary with more lyrical as well as musical echoes of the past, here sounding like the Stones, if only marginally. Sweet Potato has the most rock street cred on the album, again aping TRS, if only partially. I Want Everything is an internal echo of Take Me Down... and reminds of Tom Petty, whilst Lonesome Johnny Blues further establishes its 70s qualifications as a countryrock outing with fiddle and pedal steel cameos. The poles of this album are reflected in tracks eleven and twelve, respectively punk pace in Let’s Go For A Ride and storytelling ballad in Loser, and it is this chameleon collectivism from a past sound that attracted particularly at the time, and entertains though doesn’t grip and hold tight today.