Monday, 27 May 2013

John Fogerty - Wrote A Song For Everyone

Warm Burn

Great songs and artists generally endure. John Fogerty’s revisiting of his musical past both in Creedance Clearwater Revival and solo – with the addition of two new songs – provides a solid and fully entertaining base for that generalisation.

Familiarity is enhanced with the support of familiar other artists to add a requisite element of newness and fresh appeal: Foo Fighters [great vocal duel between Fogarty and Grohl on opener Fortune Son], Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown Band, My Morning Jacket, Kid Rock [on another singing slasharama in Born On The Bayou, growls criss-crossing with gusto], Dawes, Bob Seger [wonderful synthesis of voices on the wonderful song Who'll Stop The Rain], Brad Paisley [countrified and trading guitar licks on Hot Rod Heart, plus sweet harmonies], Alan Jackson, and Allen Toussaint.

Old and newish. Superbly produced by Fogarty, this is class from first to last. Not an ignition, but a warming burn reminding of being warmed in the past too. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Mild Diatribe Number Three

Relating to my previous post, I’ve just found one task which is linked to the contextualised approach to teaching grammar, in this case writing Poetry:

Context: Writing poetry.
Learning Focus: How varying sentence structure and sentence length can create different
emphases in poetry.
Using an exploded version of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mirror’ presented alphabetically as a word grid, students are asked to generate pairs of sentences, experimenting with the possibilities outlined below:
·             Beginning with a non-finite verb, adverb or prepositional phrase.
·             Using a short verbless sentence.
·             Using a one-word sentence.
·             Using repetition of a single word or short phrase.

Well, I’m not happy with this! Am I being too precious about Poetry? I don’t believe that writing poetry is about thinking, for example, whether to begin a sentence with a prepositional phrase. I can see this being useful when deploying rhetorical features in an argument, and of course in providing variety within a narrative, but it seems alien to the creative impulse when writing poetry.

I don’t know. When I write poetry I prefer the spontaneity of the initial words on the page, writing them as I hear them in my head, listening for sound and rhythm – maybe even echo/rhyme – as I’m getting the meaning/subject down. But I do know that the editing/crafting stage is crucial. If you’re lucky, there’s much that doesn’t have to be changed, but editing/crafting can be intense and dramatic in terms of alterations. Perhaps it’s just that I don’t think in grammatical terms when I do in fact make grammatical decisions. Yet I do know those decisions are informed by other factors like positioning on the page [I generally write and edit on screen, so word processing] as well as the sounds and pacing. Looking at repetition – whether to exploit or alter – is crucial, but I don’t ever recall thinking I need an ‘adverb’ here or a ‘prepositional phrase’ there. Vocabulary is very important, and editing is often looking for synonyms.

Not sure about this.

Mild Diatribe Number Two

This actually links to MD Number One, which didn't exactly generate a large amount of page views - not that I was surprised [!] - but for those who are interested you might like to check out this short video of Professor Debra Myhill from Exeter University talking about her work into providing materials which teach grammar within writing contexts, the point I was making in my post.

I would be intrigued to explore the work done with Poetry. I baulked initially at this idea, but the reality is that grammatical features matter considerably in Poetry as with any other kind of writing. For me, however, I would want students/young writers to be fully engaged creatively and at ease with writing before they were moved on to specific aspects of grammar.

As I write, there is one comment on the YouTube page where this video is linked, and it does raise an interesting caveat relating to consequences when grammatical accuracy is being tested, presumably discretely in envisaged national testing regimes. I don't believe that Debra Myhill's research is being undertaken to fuel preparations for any testing, and the very fact its premise is that grammar teaching has to take place within a writing context precludes any discrete meddling of any kind.

Ray Manzarek - 12th February, 1939 - 20th May, 2013

Another sad loss from the music world, Ray Manzarek died yesterday aged 74. He was, of course, co-founder of The Doors with Jim Morrison, and whilst each member of that band had their distinctive parts to play, Ray's keyboard playing was second only to Morrison's singing in establishing their signature sound. Manzarek's sound came from a Vox Continental combo organ, at which he famously sat, such a large man, and also a Fender Rhodes piano for the bass lines when playing live. A genuinely iconic sound.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa - Seesaw

No Pretender

There are many pretenders to the contemporary female vocalist crown worn by Amy Winehouse – at her very best: that sultry jazz warble and emotive inflections. And those pretenders are by and large pathetic in their attempts, the affectations churning out warning noises rather than echoes and individual achievements. Beth Hart is no pretender to the crown, in fact, having such vocal excellence in her own right, but she certainly impresses in the way that Winehouse could, at her very best.

This second release with Joe Bonamassa is superb. Opening big band jazz number Them There Eyes does immediately remind of Winehouse – at her best – and this is followed by a sultry piece of excellence in Close To My Fire. By third Nutbush City Limits, the temptation for comparison is unnecessary, though on this it is inevitable, and Hart sails along the Turner line. Fourth, Al Kooper’s lovely ballad I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know, is exquisitely covered, the emotion conveyed with beauty and strength. And it’s saying something about Hart’s singing that a mention of Bonamassa doesn’t even come into it yet, though his guitar support is, as ever, brilliant.

On fifth Can’t Let Go, Hart sings with impressive gusto and growl, and Bonamassa is effortlessly slick in accompaniment. This increasingly hot dueting is advanced with gasoline prompts on sixth Miss Lady, Bonamassa sparking off with some fiery wah wah and Hart burning with Joplinesque heat. Stunning.  Eighth, Al Green’s Rhymes, is a soulful and funky rendition that showcases Hart’s absolute perfection: such inherent strength and natural gruff warble. Bonamassa again contributes his glistening guitar gift-wrap – the excellence informed by the fact his playing never intrudes as solo shining but compliments with its sustained synergy. Ninth A Sunday Kind Of Love, made famous by Etta James, is seriously sexual.

The album ends powerfully with Strange Fruit, though this is a separate sense of strength. It is a brave cover because of the plurality of its meaningfulness here: its performance history – most notable and obviously Billy Holliday; the painfully poetic storytelling, but also because it ends an album otherwise so upbeat and dynamic in its collective focus. But Hart manages to grace this with genuine emotion, and Bonamassa adds a haunting layer in his distant moaning guitar. On an album of consistently impressive performances, this seals the achievement thoughtfully as well as superlatively, and it is a fitting tribute to Holliday that this album is bookended by songs she made famous. 

Friday, 17 May 2013

Oblivious - Creating Meaning

Creating Echoes

Swedish rock/grunge band Oblivious’ latest is an 8-track gem of 70s hard and balladic rock with a grunge echo in the vocal of Isak, specifically Layne Staley and Josh Homme, but I’m sure others will hear others and veer more to the rock precursors. C’est la vie.

Opener Silver Tongue certainly posits the hard rock credentials with pounding riff and percussive cow-bell, but the soft-rock harmonies also hint at the grunge duality. Second Strike Gold is more grunge to the fore – but I could get lost in these distinctions so suffice to say it is another fine song. Third Deluded Darling opens with a Hendrix wah wah riff, and opening line ‘an enigma wrapped in a riddle’ is perhaps the least original of the formulaic – if successful – aspects of this generic sound. I like fourth BjalkenI Ditt Oga particularly, a pretty ballad highlighting the excellence of Isak’s vocal, and working engagingly in the band’s native language. Fifth What A Trip returns rocking, then sixth By The Neck slows to another beautiful ballad at its start – reminding of early Alice In Chains – then breaks into a pounding riff. Seventh You Are The Wall is all rock anthem, and closer Entering The Night showcases acoustic guitar and reasonably complex, sustained melodic harmonising.

My kind of music.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Mild Diatribe Number One

A short while ago I read a collection of undergraduate short stories which were earnest and engaging, all the product of the University English Department’s commitment to promoting and supporting creative writing from its students. Indeed, the collection was the latest in an increasingly fine line of regular anthology publications.

One aspect that did stand out, unfortunately, was the lack of the correct use of punctuation, particularly the comma and semi-colon. Comma-splicing prevailed, and semi-colons were inserted for no particularly good reason other than to be used. Now, lecturers might well blame teachers like me who worked in the secondary and post-16 sector, so the educational stage before moving on to university, but I’m not having that! I’ve never taught students to comma-splice – indeed, I campaigned against it on a whole-school basis – and was never a huge fan of the semi-colon used in the hands of innocents.

I blame the Literacy Strategy. The Primary stage emphasis on teaching technical functions of writing as discrete elements is surely the cause of the problem. It has somehow instilled in the young a false sense of the significance of some punctuation – at a time when there is little experience for using it, or more crucially the complexity of thought for needing it to express that thought.  And somehow the belief that it is necessary whilst not ever grasping its correct and purposeful use has become an impulse for use. It isn’t a full-blown theory! There is little sense that these older writers/students can actually hear what they are writing, and they certainly can’t be listening to the effects the misuse of punctuation has on their writing. And they clearly aren’t reading. Certainly not reading great writers; or reading widely.

But I’m not in the mood to expand. What I will do is quote a lengthy passage from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian which I was reading this morning. I know it is stylised and in an American tradition of writing exemplified by Steinbeck, Hemingway, Chandler and Carver – to name a few excellent and obvious exponents. It is also an extreme example [just one wonderfully long sentence!] to make a point, but that is what has prompted this piece. I commend to anyone reading this the use of the simple connective and. This exhilarating extract is describing an Apache raid, and the use of and to connect the clauses/advancing details is so simple and yet potent. I do acknowledge that McCarthy’s extensive and vivid vocabulary is a necessary accompaniment to the success of such a style:

They crossed before the sun and vanished one by one and reappeared again and they were black in the sun and they rode out of that vanished sea like burnt phantoms with the legs of the animals kicking up the spume that was not real and they were lost in the sun and lost in the lake and they shimmered and slurred together and separated again and they augmented by planes in lurid avatars and began to coalesce and there began to appear above them in the dawn-broached sky a hellish likeness of their ranks riding huge and inverted and the horses’ legs incredibly elongate trampling down the high thin cirrus and the howling antiwarriors pedant from their mounts immense and chimeric and the high wild cries carrying that flat and barren pan like the cries of souls broke through some misweave in the weft of things into the world below.

The Temperance Movement - Exeter Cavern, 9th July

Looking forward to this. Saw The Answer at the Cavern, which was superb in such a small venue, but the highlight goes to seeing Jesse Malin here as well quite a few years ago: have a signed LP, never played. What a nerd! Thanks to M for getting the tickets to see this imminent gig - a great band who should generate some familiar Cavern heat.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Disco Two Piece For A Boogie Three Piece

Never been heavily into Disco, but in the 70s I’d put on the three-piece suit with flared trousers and go to a nightclub in Ipswich and bourbon-boogie to those disco-beats [quite a sight – in addition to the smooth moves – but my hair was pretty damn long then so with the combination of that, my age (no teenager) and the anachronism of the suit, I will have been a vision – oh yes, and also when with the burly guys I’d bring along from the farm....]. But who can’t be boogiefied by the sheer joyous repetitions of good Disco? 

French duo Daft Punk’s latest Random Access Memories [streamed on iTunes] conjures up all that and more, their own distinctive spin provided by those auto-tuned/manipulated vocals, which are foregrounded on the two opening and excellent tracks Give Life Back To Music – a consummate disco number – and The Game of Love which is quite beautiful in its soulful take on the genre.

There’s an engaging documentaryesque instrumental tribute to Giorgio Moroder on third track, surprisingly Giorgio by Moroder, where the Italian electronic/disco guru narrates his own story before the track moves wholly into its musical grooves. Fourth Within is another pretty if soppy ballad, those coded vocals providing an extra element of syrup.

The rest of the album offers up a varying mix of the same and everything else you would expect, with guest vocalists who will mean more to those who know the genre, but at times it is rather repetitive [more than the inherent nature of the genre] and it could have been edited – but as a background sound it doesn’t perhaps matter. There is a rather theatrical sound to seventh track Touch featuring Paul Williams, so the tangents do exist a little, if you like that sort of thing, and eighth track Fragments of Time featuring Pharrell Williams is fairly bland. Ninth Beyond funks things up quite nicely. But those first two tracks really did/do take me back, and are fine in their own right, as is the album taken as a whole.