Friday, 30 November 2012

Two Wings - Love's Spring

Get Over It

The vocal of Hannah Tuulikki dominates this album as do the reviews of it. For most it is an aural hurdle that must [but more importantly, and commonly, should] be leaped for those listening the first time. So I am no different in mentioning, though I will avoid the more cheeky [although again, commonly positive] allusions out there. For me, there is the clear echo and merging of Kate Bush – the most obvious - and Clare Grogan: remember the jaunty Happy Birthday by Altered Images?

Beyond the vocal focal point, this is an album of quite richly varied musicality. Horn arrangements are colourful, and the guitar work is eclectic throughout. Then there are the harmonies. Vocal foil as well as harmoniser is predominantly Ben Reynolds, but there are other combinations at work. Sixth track Just Like is a case in point: in many ways this has quite a naive assortment of guitar licks and horn blasts as well as background harmonies, and the song itself is ordinary, if pleasing, but it is this very unpolished yet busy presentation – and that distinctive vocal – that makes it so entertaining. Readers of this blog will know how much I despise the affected and wispy/nasal/slurred female vocal so currently in vogue: well Tuulikki’s is simply delightful in its natural idiosyncrasy.

Album opener Eikon pulls no punches in foregrounding that vocal, as if to warn this is what you’re going to get. Second Feel, with an immediate clever mix of almost-Latin horns, acoustic and then Hawaiian guitar, has Reynolds dueting to wrap Hannah’s vocal in a different, buffered offering. It works well, and similarly on fifth Altars and Thrones, sans Hawaiin guitar. Third Love’s Spring starts with harpsichord and flutes a la traditional folk, and then light folkrock as the guitars join it, this having the feel of Dr Strangely Strange, whilst fifth Valley introduces some background pedal steel into its mildly Country lilt.

Penultimate It Hurt Me is another simple tune with harmonica and echoing guitar adding to the overall musical variety. Closer Forbidden Sublime is the longest track at nearly nine minutes and this is a slow-moving, atmospheric song with horns again playing a key role above the strong detailed guitar work. Tuulikki gives her most alluring vocal performance too where by now we have got used to and want to hear more, so she rides notes further and adds rougher textures. Those horns and harmonies and a fuller guitar solo also generate impact. This is a wonderful song to finish a distinctive album.


Simo - Simo

Rendition of Rs

It’s perhaps becoming a misnomer for me to keep referring to retro-rock – it should now be resurgent-rock as there are so many solo artists/bands performing guitar-led, and/or gravel-voiced generic rock done anew, if the oxymoron doesn’t drive you too crazy.

JD Simo is another in this welcome resurrection. His latest Simo is JD with a trio, so that too conforms to one of rock’s classic conventions. JD Simo is from Chicago originally, a guitar prodigy – a term he apparently dislikes – and has cut his rock/blues chops with the Dan Kelly Band out of Nashville.

I’m not going to over-analyse an album presenting the rawness of rock which doesn’t require much of a breakdown. One of the more varied and relatively complex tracks, however, is Young Man, Old Man with a tinge of psychedelia [great drumming too], and this adds depth to an album made up of largely in-your-face guitar smackers, like the strutting wah-wah and fuzzed rockfunk of That Same Thing. There’s requisite blues with What’s On Your Mind, a far-out instrumental with requisite drum solo Thank You Tony Jones, and it ends on Evil with a truly psychedelic fuzzed guitar solo.

Hell, I’m going to have to roll my rs: retro, resurgent, raucous, resurrected rock!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


I played third base
pitched once
and hit a home run that
won me a dollar.

Little League stuff
but a fleeting hero
in maroon uniform
planting roots.

Most American boys will have their hat and glove, perhaps more-so from when I was a kid? I don't really know. This was a European rooting, living in and playing ball in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1965-66, going to school at an American base there - the Paul Revere Village. My team was the Orioles.

I was never particularly sporty as a youngster and teenager. The poem tells of my athletic transience [and it is my 'first' baseball poem, written quite a few years ago]. Now I may have blogged about the following before: when I moved to England in 1967 and attended a secondary modern in Ipswich, the Head of PE rubbed his hands, literally, at the prospect of my joining the school's basketball team, reckoning he'd just inherited an indigenous all-star player. I don't think I'd ever played before, and was crap. He never liked me after that.

It wasn't until much later that I got a little more active. I ran a marathon in 1983. At the school where I taught, I helped to run a Monday night youth club for many, many years. One of the PE teachers who took on the overall running, a semi-pro footballer, loved basketball and got me involved. There I was an adult and getting all excited about learning from him and playing and enjoying. I loved those Monday nights.

A double lesson in irony: playing baseball in Germany and learning basketball in England.

The Amboy Dukes - The Amboy Dukes [1967]

Nutter Nugent

This eponymous debut album of 1967 is well before bad Nutter Nugent [redneck pro-gun politics] and just before good Nutter Nugent [psyche/concept album excellence of 1970’s Marriage On The Rocks – Rock Bottom, a big favourite and reviewed on this blog]. Detroit’s The Amboy Dukes present their dynamic mix of psyche and garage with refreshing immediacy, and Nugent’s guitar work is already blistering, especially on the opening track.

The album begins with the Big Jim Evans’ classic Baby Please Don’t Go, made pop-famous by Them, and that notable starting bass and guitar riff is introduced by wailing feedback to herald this psyched-up guitar version. Nugent shrieks and shreds brilliantly [and still does today in live performances of this favourite], and it even contains a brief Hendrix sample. This is followed by an uncertain cover of Cream’s I Feel Free, doubtful because it is quite faithful to the original and therefore at odds with the ownership of the opening cover – perhaps the covering time gaps are significant factors.  Next Young Love is a regular pop-garage track but with more gritty Nugent guitar work. Fourth Psalms of Aftermath picks up the psychedelic trend with requisite sitar and requisite thoughtful lyrics like where’s goodness and mercy on which life is based as hatred and envy have taken its place – it is sung beautifully by John Drake. Sixth Colors is a gorgeous psychedelic 60s song with moaning guitar breaking into crisp riffs, ending on a pre-Hendrix mocking of the national anthem. Seventh is a glorious and rousing version of Let’s Go Get Stoned [Ashford, Simpson, Armstead] with great vocal harmonies that deliver a wonderfully upbeat celebration of the song’s theme.

Eighth Down On Phillip’s Escalator has the sound of early Pink Floyd and is lyrically as playfully obtuse – this is the song that dates the album , but dates it so enjoyably. This is followed by a similarly psychedelic The Lovely Lady, reminding me of Clear Light and Love, especially on Drake’s strong, clear vocal. Tenth, The Who’s  It’s Not True, even plays with incipient West Coast harmonies in a rather jaunty style, very much the pop song on the album. The original album ends on the garage sprint of Gimme Love.

Ted Nugent would move on to play a more hard rock sound and become a hard nut politically, but this first album is a superbly fresh and exhilarating snapshot of its time.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies - The American Metaphysical Circus [1969]

Occasionally Far Out There

As far out goes this is out there quite far, though at times the folk, symphonic and even light operatic forays present conventional snapshots – the convention being that ‘psychedelic’ music of this time would include these elements either as pastiche or a more complex amalgam of sounds and styles. But I have to stress that the faroutness is largely encapsulated in the opening track Kalyani where the electronic jamboree is truly adventurous and spacey. This and the next two tracks form the album’s richest musical variety, given the umbrella title The Sub-Sylvian Litanies, with tracks two and three called respectively You Can’t Ever Come Down [presumably referring to LSD] and Moonsong: Prelog. After this, the genre-hopping gets a little tedious. There is a four part ‘political’ sequence with the over-arching title of American Bedmusic - Four Dreams for a Departing President [LBJ], and the first Patriot’s Lullaby does employ operatic playfulness for genuinely engaging effect. The fourth Mister 4th of July, however, employs a scratched ragtime musical motif – inexplicably popular for psyche groups of this time, and I’m not sure why – and this weighs heavily on that tedious side. Indeed, these jolly excursions into other conventions mar for me whatever satire is in the lyrics – because they are so hard to discern. Tenth track The Elephant at the Door returns to a more psychedelic mood/mode, and this seems like a clear precursor to the sound of Principal Edwards Magic Theatre. It is a powerful song leading to rising female vocals, jazzy horns and swirling organ grooves, then dissonant horns. It’s an appealing if uneven album and of clear interest to those, like me, who first heard Joe Byrd in his group The United States of America on the CBS sampler The Rock Machine Turns You On and their whimsical track Wooden Wives.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Habib Koite & Eric Bibb - Brothers In Bamako

With Ease

If calm and melodic ruminations on the world’s woes can provide a musically palliative cure, we should gag our rants and stifle our moans to allow this record the aural space to delicately work its magic. That would be the sweet dream anyway.

Habib Koite and Eric Bibb merge their respective West African [Mali] and American [Finland!] roots music with a gentle glue that adheres melody and acoustic guitar/banjo playing to beautiful effect. On the opening two tracks, each artist shares a geographical as well as cultural exchange with Bibb’s first On My Way To Bamako and Koite’s second L.A. – a musical mission statement on partnership and sharing [with Koite singing in French so I’m not entirely sure what the cultural celebration is, apart from an English expression of enjoying five shots of tequila that make me happy!].

They literally first join on third track Touma Ni Kelen/Needed Time which is gorgeous, both picking guitars – folk blues and flamenco - and accompanied by percussive African rhythms and sounds. Tracks We Don’t Care and Send Us Brighter Days present their concern for the world’s self-indulgences and greed and therefore the need for a better way, the latter a slow blues with the sweetest harmonising. The whole album rests – perhaps too comfortably for some – in this peaceful and meditative mood. Indeed, the twelfth track is a rather soporific version of Blowin’ In The Wind where the famous narrative does fit that reflective disposition but it is a little too slow and misses the rhetorical pace inherent in its lyrics.

So if you are wide awake and can steel yourself against the soothing sound, or alternatively you need to chill, this has thirteen tracks to comfort and please with ease.