Monday, 29 April 2013

Richie Havens - Nobody Left To Crown [2008, final studio album - his 30th]

One More Day

Richie Havens’ final studio album is vintage in sound, lyrical preoccupation and the ability to take the classic songs of others and stamp his indelible mark upon them. This latter quality oozes its aural charm on Pete Townsend’s Won’t Get Fooled Again, a song so steeped in The Who’s musical iconography you wouldn’t think it possible that a version could break those signature shackles – but Havens wraps it in his inimitable vocal and strummed acoustic guitar, the lyrics sadly as apt today as when written, as are the sentiments Havens presents from others and his own pen throughout this wise reflection on a world he has documented for over 40 years,

But the world looks just the same
And history ain’t changed

Opener The Key, supported as are a number of others by a cello accompaniment, is beautiful – quite simply beautiful – and the lyrics embrace the optimism for a better world that has walked in tandem with Havens’ anger at the way we have treated ourselves and this world,

Somewhere there is a chance
To escape from tribal dance
No one breaks the common trance, of global glance
At freedom’s plate
Somewhere there are no lies
The truth and beauty still survives
And all the days of our lives
The sun rises, just to show us the way
Just between you and me

Follower Say It Isn’t So is similarly gentle as a song, and the cello again joins in with its softening as the lyrics this time are less hopeful though still tinged with the disbelief that in its expression suggests something better,

Say it isn’t so that people must bend
To this war without end
I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it
I can’t believe it, do you believe?

And then the third is Townsend’s anthemic declaration of regret and fight, encapsulating the battle Havens has sung and fought throughout his life, so sadly ended.

Fourth Standing On The Water continues the righteous ruefulness, the rhetorical questioning perhaps reflecting more sagacious resignation than revolution, but nonetheless pertinent for that genuine concern,

Why do we surround ourselves with houses and big cars
Trying to make out we got it made
When nothing really belongs to us
We’re only passing through
We’re part of a masquerade

Fifth is a lovely cover of Citizen Cope’s [Clarence Greenwood] Hurricane Water, and sixth If I is another Havens’ original with a sweet simplicity that exemplifies all that is peaceful and introspective about this album’s music. 

Sixth, title track Nobody Left To Crown, is classic Havens, the guitar strummed vigorously with those speedy oscillating rhythms, and the narrative offers its mix of hope and criticism,

What if politicians were all good guys?
Oh Lord, don’t we wish they were
We would not be so dependent
On courts of law that make us
All feel like dependents sometimes

and what stands out in this song is Havens’ mash-up [of sorts] where he segues a few satirical bars of Home On The Range into the song,

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home
Home, home on the range
Where the fear and the antidotes play
Where seldom is heard, an encouraging word
And our leaders do nothing all day

Ninth is a cover of Jackson Browne’s Lives In The Balance, and although written about American involvement in El Salvador, its focus on political corruption is still apt in the larger world-view Havens is presenting throughout this album, but also his specific focus on America itself.

Eleventh Fates sees Havens adopt a more caustic criticism with his linking of capitalism and the power-elite to slavery, and it is clear he hasn’t forsaken his life-long political/philosophical ethos,

He’s got his factories, he’s got his slaves
He’s got his prophets, he owns our cave
He has his prisons, he has his cage
He has his judges, they have our fate

This ethical protest is continued in the cover of the Peter Yarrow’s [Peter, Paul and Mary] song The Great Mandala (The Wheel of Life) which is a complex lyric, it seems to me, about punishment and justice. The album finishes on Havens’ song One More Day, a calm and poetic rumination, proffering both secular and spiritual love and peacefulness, a fitting testament to end the album as well as honour Havens’ life as a musician and person,

My love so dear as this life you are to me
Your kiss so clear as the crystals of the sea
Please save me, I have fallen here
I am lost and alone
An angel weeps, I hear him cry
A lonely prayer, a voice on high
Dry all your tears, come what may
And in the end the sun will rise
On one more day

The sun will rise on one more day

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Richie Havens - Alarm Clock, 1971 - Top Fifty

Deserved Ripples

I was saddened to hear of the death of Richie Havens, who passed, aged 72, on the 22nd April. This is a sentiment and line becoming all too frequent of late, but not surprising as musicians with whom I grew up as a teenager – so themselves already or just being established musically as young adults – are of an age where this will be more common.

Having been away in the Lakes last week I have only just found out. So the sadness is deepened a little by the fact that Haven’s death did not register more widely. If at home I would have ‘heard’ as I touch base daily with music sites for reviews and information, but even though I was able to go to a local cafe to use their WiFi for quickly checking emails, and I got a daily newspaper and watched the TV news, his death hadn’t registered enough to be reported. Lesser ‘popular’ stars would, I’m sure, have created larger if less distinguished ripples.

Quite by coincidence, I had during the week been thinking about my musical Top Fifty [see – even when away from home and not writing on the blog I am somewhat consumed by the insular world it provides for me] and wondering if Richie Havens should have a place there. He is without doubt a favourite artist of mine. It is his distinctive vocal – at times quite a growl, but at others a soft and resonating folk vocal – and of course the guitar playing, open-tuned with a famously, aggressively strummed style. This style was brought to my attention and so many others with his opening performance at Woodstock – obviously through the film version – and his mesmerising and commanding stage presence with, as we now know, impromptu jamming as he was asked by the organisers to extend his performance as other acts were held up in traffic [if you are from another planet and haven't seen/heard, check out the stunning Freedom here].  

It isn’t his death that sways me to include Alarm Clock in my Top Fifty, but it does provide me the opportunity to honour him by its inclusion. This is one of the first few albums with which I grew up musically and in many other respects, so it was played a considerable amount. It is beautiful – the song I am listening to as I write is the self-penned [with Roth and Margoleff] End of the Season, with its unusual, for this album, orchestral accompaniment, acknowledged on the album as a string arrangement by Bill Shepherd, but surely it is a Moog Synthesiser dominating the background. It is a lovely song with Havens’ deep vocal and the heightened drama of that arrangement.

The title track is quite a bluesy number, Havens’ signature rhythm driving the beat and Paul Williams providing some funky lead guitar. It has a jamming/live element that appealed particularly then, reminiscent of the Woodstock performance [the cd version runs at 7.17 to accentuate this feel, compared with the vinyl at 5.17].

Havens was a great interpreter of others’ songs, especially the Beatles, and Alarm Clock opens with a beautiful cover of the beautiful George Harrison number Here Comes The Sun. Third track Younger Men Grow Older is another Havens/Roth song and its apparent gentle lyricism about age and wisdom and hopes for the future encapsulates perfectly the ideals of the Woodstock generation, that initial sweet focus tempered ruefully by reflections on the destruction of war and assault on the environment. Fourth track Girls Don’t Run Away, written by Havens, is gorgeous, if plaintive, and lyrically also reflects well on preoccupations of this generation, here the ‘generation gap’ and a mother who does not understand/appreciate her daughter, and an urge that the daughter should stand up for herself and seek independence. Such musical folk excellence was heightened by a storytelling which so deeply tapped into the contemporary listeners’ thoughts and feelings. 

January 1941- April 2013

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Steve Earle and The Dukes (and Duchesses) - The Low Highway


An outstanding album, as one can rightly expect of Steve Earle. Worldly worn and worldly wise, politically astute and acerbic, can rock your fucking socks off, passionate and romantic.

A song that has been given quite a bit of attention from this latest release is Burnin’ It Down where Earle imagines torching a Wallmart store. Whilst the sentiment is angry enough, there is a beauty in the song itself and a resignation in the empathised rationale for the act which tempers the idea somehow. What I mean is there’s more pathos in the ‘why’ of the thought than considering the violence of the act.

Allison Moorer adds great harmony, and accordion, to the slight TexMex of That All You Got. This, Love’s Gonna Blow My Way – with violin by Eleanor Whitmore – and After Mardi Gras are a trio of fine songs written by Steve for his appearances as a character in the equally fine New Orleans-set TV drama Treme.

Earle’s weary Texas drawl is such a distinctive sound, and when he talks low and painfully through Invisible – a song about being itinerant/dislocated/disconnected – there is such an authenticity it hurts. This quality is heightened with the album closer, the genuinely emotive Remember Me, a song Earle has written for his baby son, John Henry, as he a father of 58 anticipates the inevitable separation his age will cause so much earlier than he would have wanted. It could be a maudlin moment, but the honesty with which Earle has always written and sung his songs wrests this excellent one from that possibility.

On a bootleg of a recent Berlin gig, Earle talks about having kids in his mid-fifties, and he says he ‘started doing the math’ and figured out ‘the best I can hope for is to just try to really take really good care of myself and try to be around long enough to see this one grow up’. I’m sure John Henry will want his father around for as much as possible of the journey ahead, but what a poignant, loving song and sentiment to fill that void when the math does exert its inevitability. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Boston Run

Runners with their legs intact cross the line and
flourish with triumphant connected arms before turning
to town and that cooling beer or, being Patriots’ Day,
an ironic salve of tea. And there are those who cannot
now walk or wave, any liquid balm drained to stains seen
from the other race above with a vivid aerial scene.

A weekend to celebrate a Revolution, or the Greeks - more
histories where meaning is also always on the move, and
whether the terror that descends is from the drone of
wars or some lunatic who demands their right to a gun
these innocents are as maimed or dead as all before,
here where other waves of red wash this concrete shore.

We could line them side by side across the miles of a
thousand marathons and still have prey for another run.

Coyote Kings wMush - Nasty Habits and Dirty Little Secrets

Cool Blues

Here’s a funky and rootsy blues band that exudes a musical cool which, excusing the oxymoron, sweats off the knowing journeymen-warmth of a trio of fine musicians and a singer whose voice was brought onto seven tracks in their previous album and now gets a ‘w/Mush’ nicknamecheck on current cover to signal her significant contribution to their overall sound.

There are fluid to fiery guitar rhythms and licks from guitarist Robin Barrett who also writes all and sings on some songs; Curtis Johnson is the powerhouse drummer; Kit Kuhlmann is on lively bass, and Michelle ‘Mush’ Morgan adds the requisite welcome sass with her vocals.

Good blues is good blues and if you like that you’ll like this but beyond such neat symmetry there is a special sound with Coyote Kings which I’ll take back as the most apt description to the previously mentioned fluidity. It is largely in the guitar sounds which are laid back in essence even when emerging from that state of blues grace with their wilder calm. Perhaps it’s a distinctive tension, and something embraced in the songwriting of Barrett where his style is blues refined rather than blues defined.

Opener Nasty Habit is a thumping [wonderful bass] Stevie Rayesque number, the guitar oozing those refined riffs and Morgan singing her sexually charged suggestiveness. Second Best You Couldn’t Do is smooth again, rhythmic riffs bending blues notes sweetly. On third Hard To Be a Man, Barrett demonstrates his own emotionally infused vocal that can growl with conviction. A great start, and this third number in particular reminds a little of the Mike Bloomfield school of cool blues.

Fifth Baby’s Gone is an emotive ballad, guitar wailing and Mush moaning in another sweet symmetry. Seventh That Hot Daddy takes it’s Time of the Season opening beat and then scorches it with guitar-bent burns, Morgan so close on the mic you look over your shoulder hopefully whilst listening. Eighth Afternoon Sun has Barrett slowing the mood and singing a gentle number, simple in its summery effectiveness. Tenth Walkin’ In The Fog is another slowed blues ballad, this one an instrumental that evokes Gary Moore’s sensitive playing.

The album finishes on Am I Gettin’ Wise and I’d say Barrett’s rhetorical question is answered in the natural wisdom of this assured blues experience. A lovely album from start to finish, and can be bought here.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Triessence: Quintessence – 'Rebirth, Live at Glastonbury'; Shiva’s Quintessence – 'Only Love Can Save Us'; Allan Mostert – 'Inside World'

Trusted Trilogy

As I wrote recently when reviewing Quintessence albums, I had ordered three related cds which have now arrived and been enjoyed: Quintessence – Rebirth, Live at Glastonbury; Shiva’s Quintessence – Only Love Can Save Us; Allan Mostert – Inside World.

The Quintessence reunion and Glastonbury performance is superb: testament to brilliant musicianship that will always endure; Shiva Jones with keyboardist Rundra Beauvert revisit Quintessence music to recreate and reinvent beautifully, Shiva’s vocal such a key element of the band’s memorable sound and as dynamic as ever [with additional ‘cosmic’ tracks], and Mostert’s is the most individual, still steeped in the spiritual for musical inspiration, and an ambient soundscape [‘psychedelic essence music’] that is gloriously rich and aurally enriching. As a fan, I’m bound to be pleased in these continuations of a sound that has always appealed, but I genuinely recommend on their innate qualities.

I got the first two through amazon; the Mostert is burnt to order and comes neatly packaged from Burning Shed here.