Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Meat + Bone

Health Warning

I’ve recently been convalescing, put out to rest in the AOR Aural Nursing Home, draped in warm blankets of harmony and bathed in the gentle whirlpools of vocal standards. Whilst I have occasionally escaped with slippers left under the bed - kicking out in rock’s retro boots or levitating in phsychedelia’s sandals - it has mainly been a few days of staying put with feet-up reclining and relaxation.

This afternoon I have shunned jumpers and gloves for the torn jeans and ripped T-shirt of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, spurning Sunday’s carvery roast for the basic fare of Meat + Bone, taking instruction from fourth track Get Your Pants Off. After an eight year absence in their own version of taking a break, the Explosion return with this classic noise and distortion blues that has become their familiar fast and furious sound.

The first track Black Mold plays in the punk park John Lydon once trashed, and second Bag Of Bones is a stomping barroom dirtblues with ghosting harmonica and crashing bass and drums. That noise of pumping bass and snarling drum gets a great work-out in the sweaty gym of Ice Cream Killer, a cool fifth track in a hot place. This album is a tantalising tight space packed with even tighter accommodations of the Jon Spencer trademark echoing vocal, caustic lyrics and over-amplified playing.

Matron! Oh matron! I think I need another injection....

The Beauty Room - The Beauty Room II


The music on this album is often so pretty that it must look at itself in utter adulation. It already holds up a mirror to the harmony and string sounds of the 60s and 70s, with various reviews citing influences like Brian Wilson, CSN&Y [well, you have to if there’s harmony], and The Doobie Brothers, but I’ve also caught shimmering reflections of Yes, Steely Dan and Freedy Johnson as well as Police/just Sting at their/his harmonising best, or not if you are a devotee of Police’s punkier roots – or if you just detest them/him.

It’s not wall-to-wall perfection, and at times the sweeping strings are far too lounge-lite and limp, this latter alliterative adjective also apt in describing many of the lyrics: the dreadful repetition of ‘open up the sky’ on One Man Show, and the direness of But For Now, ‘you draw me in, I breathe you out again, you shut the door to let the journey begin, time disappearing through a moment in your eye, dreams reoccurring as visions multiply, cause yesterday was the loneliest place, and fear has drawn out these lines on my face...’ and one suspects the loneliness has been created by the fleeing subject of the song’s lamenting intentions. Sorry, I meant lamentable.

Contrast this with the sublime We Can’t Throw You Away that starts the album: harmonies as taut as the rope one wants to put around the writing of the former referenced offering. Second Shadows Falling suggests the beauty will be sustained, this more in the Sting vein so it is a relative claim, but I like that sound when listening to this kind of music. I warm to third All In My Head, sounding a little like Zero 7’s Destiny – indeed, all the bass lines have that grooved-out sound, thanks to producer Kirk Deglorgio - and the vocal of Jinadu is full of clarity in tone and pitch, its multi-dubbing providing the harmonies.

Penultimate track Heaven Is In Your Mind doesn’t achieve a dynamic realisation of the profound literalism of its title, and the simple descending melody isn’t made any greater by those jaunty string arrangements or the attempt at a rousing chorus. I do find it difficult to understand the poles of quality and focus on this album. It does end, naturally, on a sweetly smooth and pretty, relative height with No Rejection, and as I weigh the pros and cons I too will avoid the aural rebuff, but I will be very selective when listening again.


Later....With Jools Holland, Friday 28th September, 2012


I’ve just viewed my recording of Friday’s extended Live....With Jools Holland and now  update my account of Tuesday night’s live show: the first fascinating fact is that the Barbara Ann performance has been redone. There is a ‘different’ joke about the Beach Boys having recorded an album based on Jools’ surname – Holland – this time initiated by Mike Love whereas on Tuesday it was Jools himself. At the end of the song Brian isn’t stopped from moving off his stool, but he does shout to anyone who is listening Where to? Where to? which generated as much pathos in me as in the original frail endpiece. Even more ‘suspicious’ is a shot later of Brian Wilson clicking his fingers enthusiastically to the beat of Public Image Limited playing behind him, but in the next edit with Brian in the background he has stopped completely – clear evidence that he had been prompted to perform in the first angle.

Other than that the interview with Lydon is a hoot, John justifying his butter advertising earnings as a means to becoming an independent musician, reminding Jools of an argument he had with him many years ago, and gleefully telling the Beach Boys how they make him feel young! That’s exactly how I feel, but I wouldn’t rub it in their faces. Ironically, Lydon’s reliance on following a song sheet placed on a music stand is less of a crutch than the heavily echoed amplification of his warbled vocal, all rolled r-sounds rebounding. It is a theatrical affectation that to my listening seems naff compared with the musical grandstanding of Muse’s familiar and therefore expected exaggerations.

The one constant is the tight performance of Natalie Duncan, on Friday’s show singing two songs from her fine album Devil In Me.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Bang and Olufsen Beolit 600

Fuck Feng Shui

Having recalled and mentioned my purchase of a Bang and Olufsen potable radio in my previous post, I went out to the shed this afternoon to search for it in a moment of nostalgic reverie - wanting to take a photograph for another posting - only to have my second recall of the day regarding this early hi-fi exploration: I've recently thrown it away. Urged to transcend a lifetime of innate and spiritual male hoarding, I kowtowed to the pressure and went to tidy up a previous shed where in a moment of enforced and emasculating feng shui I chucked out the B&O and no doubt other soon-to-be-remembered and rued treasured remnants from my past, this gem having been bought on hire purchase in the early 70s.

As Lidl's Western Gold is to Woodford Reserve, I am having to settle for an image of the Beolit 600 found on the Internet rather than an actual photograph of the one I personally owned. From hi-fi to lo-fi, so to speak.

I did, however, find my Amstrad stereo amplifier, bought in the late 70s, which had the amazing bass boost button/switch that made the walls wail when you pressed it on at full volume. Perhaps when I recover from today's Bang and Olufsen bereavement I'll retrieve that other still salvaged and secured remnant from the lineage of my music playing paraphernalia and photograph it for celebration.

Paul Carrack - Good Feeling

Easy Feeling

Paul Carrack's latest offers no surprises and breaks no new ground. So how is the expected and familiar feeling? Pretty good really. Is it easy listening? Exceedingly. There are uptempo numbers, ballads, funky tracks, plenty of harmonising, and the one easiest thing to state is that class exudes from Carrack's vocal. I know exactly where I was when first hearing Paul immortalising Ace's How Long on the radio way back in the day, and that was the hook: in my Suffolk village cottage listening on a Bang and Olufsen portable, my first significant expense [weekly payments] having started my job as a farm worker. The things we recall.

There is a documentary on Paul Carrack The Man With The Golden Voice being aired on BBC4 at 9pm this coming October 12th. Get out your easy chair, sit back and enjoy the simple but good feelings his singing promotes if you're willing to be so aurally massaged.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Banned Sauce

Rich Ingredients

Liking this band loads already, having only just heard them on Nicky Horne's Planet Rock show tonight where he enthused about their eclecticism, a musical miscellanea that draws heavily from the past. It's the wah-wah guitar and bluesy harmonica hinting at its deepest roots, but as Horne declared they do present a fresh and distinctive sound from this illustrious well of influence, for example breaking into bursts of tight harmony. Worth checking out their songs here where you can play all six tracks. I'm looking forward to that first release.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Simeon Soul Charger – Harmony Square

A Peg in Harmony's Whole

Simeon Soul Charger is a band of four Americans from Ohio making folk-psychedelic music in Germany. Sehr gut and far out. Their album Harmony Square is a rock opus of sorts and its fifteen separate tracks are merged into the conceptual whole with a variety of guest musicians on violins, cello, tabla/other percussion, and a saw harp. It’s more acid folk harmony and narrative than psychedelic experimentation up to notional fifth track Spinning Across The Grass where guitar and effects play a more prominent part behind a grunge sound that breaks into momentary staccato singing which got me thinking of Gentle Giant as the automatic mental-precursor-search kicked in. It’s hard to pinpoint the obvious influences – notional sixth Doris reminds me of latter-day Beatles. Even more obvious reference points would be The Pretty Things and elements of The Kinks, but the guitar solo on this ‘sixth’ track is also Pink Floyd. A bit of Zappa? It has to all be there either by intention or aural osmosis, these guys clearly steeped in the sounds of the late 60s and early 70s with, as I’ve said, the spinning across the grass grunge being reprieved. Notional eighth The Pipers’s Prize is pseudo-operatic in its harmonising, and at this early stage of the listening experience I’m following melody and performance rather than concentrating on and hearing the storytelling, a yarn summarised in their press release as The protagonist finds himself by chance at the ‘Harmony Square’, the marketplace of a secluded village, and experiences in addition to the social ills different solution against these [and I suspect an element of lost translation from German to English in that ending] OR, as their blog summarises it more tightly as well as introducing a significant additional plot twist, an elaborate story about an alien circus descending on Earth to offer transcendence to a sea of oppressed humans.

Notional tenth The Changing Wind and Reign [clever, eh?] is pure sweet-scented folk with close harmony and violin which is best described as generic of the time it so ably reflects, but at its end the melody is swept aside by a more methodical approach because the narrative requires advancement, and I suspect this will be the ultimate ‘problem’ with this album as a casual listening experience: there is clear compromise between creating distinct and memorable tunes with writing passages that focus on delivering the tale. I think we need bands and record companies to take risks like this, and it is a brave, worthy challenge that SSC has taken and quite successfully achieved, especially for an audience whose aural peg fits squarely into harmonies.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Later....With Jools Holland, Tuesday 25th September, 2012

What an odd and at times disturbing experience it was to watch Later....With Jools Holland tonight, perhaps quite simply in being reminded of the ageing process and the frailties it brings, Brian Wilson exemplifying this in his robotic presence, though we know it is not entirely getting older that has produced his evidently vulnerable situation. This was particularly visible at the end of The Beach Boys’ spirited a cappella performance of Barbara Ann - with Jools contributing a brief honky-tonk riff over which Brian plonked basic chords – where comforting and controlling hands were placed on Wilson’s shoulder, and someone stopped him from moving off his stool when Jools left for the next act.

More confirmation of the total support package was in the number of Beach Boys baseball caps worn by members to conceal another B-word, the loose-fitting shirts with untucked tails hanging like sails, and Brian’s piano rack actually a box with edges like blinkers that presumably holds and conceals a screen where the words he is to sing are transmitted in large letters and with other instructions. But how good to hear them singing That's Why God Made the Radio, the great title track from their great current album [reviewed here 3rd June].

The icing on this moderately surreal experience was John Lydon and Public Image Limited performing a track from their new album, John also apparently following the lyrics on a score before him – no need for electronic assistance just yet. Lydon wore an oversized coat and shirt to continue the art of concealment, or not, and he seems to be eating quite a few crumpets with the butter he hilariously advertises.

I know the weight references wear thin [couldn’t resist] coming from someone with his own bourbon belly and other age-related consequences, and as I said at the beginning, that is perhaps why this first episode in the new series made such an unsettling impact. In terms of the music it was interesting to see Muse playing live songs from their latest album I reviewed yesterday, and the performance being less theatrical than on record. It was also amazing to see PIL because I had only earlier this evening, and without knowing tonight’s line-up for the show, been listening to Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols. I thought John was in fine form, even with an alleged cold.

Natalie Duncan was a revelation [reviewed here 4th August].