Saturday, 31 August 2013

Christina Carter - Texas Modern Exorcism

Modern Exercise in Listening

Christina Carter is new to me, and the first cd of hers that I have listened to a couple of times, Texas Modern Exorcism, has a history I haven’t been able to trace definitively, but I think it started as a cassette-only release in 2008, had another release in 2011, and has reappeared again quite recently. My interest was sparked by this most recent emergence and in reading about her work and this album in particular at Volcanic Tongue, here, and from where I ordered two of her cds.

The six tracks on this album are idiosyncratic songscapes that seem to take shape as improvisation but have to actually be complex compositions. Opener Painting is driven by an unusual infusion of harmonica over simple piano chords, though these chords are overlaid with dancing piano notes at about 12 minutes into and until the end of the song’s near 20 minutes total. 7 minutes of the song are filled by Carter’s overdubbed vocals, sung poetic statements that echo one another and also merge in harmony. Second Dance is immediately into the vocal, long haunting notes again chasing one another as an echo of sound as well as the words, chant-like at times. Third Film is spoken poetry over electric guitar - as society expects, to contain love... my longing, my longing – and the poetic narrative obviously advances beyond these opening repeated lines with Carter again using overdubs to echo, reinforce, harmonise and mesmerise. The guitar lead interjects with the words and this leads into a cascade of repeated and echoed lines as relentless imperatives, return to me. Fifth Music is probably the most complex and it continues the pattern of spoken and sung poetic lines that recur like ricochet in the drive onwards through the song, here pushed to some of the busiest harmonies. Final track Drama at 13 minutes seems to reassess and include all that has gone before, not lyrically but musically, and the harmonica returns as do the complex criss-crossings of vocal lines.

It all requires a different kind of listening to the norm, if that makes sense. These songs need both aural patience and desire: there are moments of slow musical development with which you need to commit; the poetry is impressionistic at times and you have to accept suggestion and thought rather than definitive meaning, not that I think this is particularly hard: music should at times be about thinking over declaratives. These are not pop songs making simple statements.

I bought both this and Imaginee for their creative content, very much on the descriptions on the Volcanic Tongue site. Their limited edition status, hand-painted covers and, as with Imaginee, an original painting from Christina, all suggest an artistic endeavour/impulse that is genuinely interesting. I still have this second cd to listen to and I will review later. Where so much music can be formulaic [though I don’t always feel this is a bad thing, and have argued so] it is good to discover and support someone who perseveres with an individual creative drive. 

Friday, 30 August 2013

Seamus Heaney - In Memoriam: April 13th, 1939 - August 30th, 2013

Genuinely saddened to hear the news of the death today of Seamus Heaney. I have read his work since I first became interested in poetry when a teenager, and I have over the years had the pleasure of teaching and sharing his wonderful writing. In memory of him and this, I include here a beautiful, consummate sonnet from a longer poem of his called Clearances, itself written in memory of his mother. For various reasons this is a poem that carries significant meaning for me.

In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other's work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives -
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Scarlet Rivera - Scarlet Rivera, 1977

Like a Hurricane

This eponymous debut album from Scarlet Rivera is a masterclass in virtuoso violin especially as a rock instrument, though this album reflects her classical training and jazz leanings as much as anything. The accompanying instrumentation, for example the synth/keyboard and effects on opener Leftback, presents the rockier and presumably marketable side to her playing at the time. Best known for her work with Bob Dylan in the mid-seventies, including the Desire album and memorably on the track Hurricane, Rivera on this and album Scarlet Fever of the following year, displays her stunning range. But it is on this first that you continually hear the tone and styling that stamped its impression on Hurricane.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Little Hurricane - Stay Classy

Free Class

Describing themselves as a ‘dirty blues/rock outfit from San Diego’, Little Hurricane offer up this excellent free download of their covers album Stay Classy. Guitarist Anthony Catalano and drummer Celeste Spina have selected well-known songs to cover, and their simple format is effective – the guitar and vocal of Catalano leading, nothing flash, and on this album at least, the strength of the familiar carries it easily.

The duo no doubt draw comparisons with The White Stripes in their format, but when there’s just two of them – female on drums, male on guitar – that’s going to happen. I think that’s where the comparison ends. The guitar work is never blistering, but on Ain’t No Sunshine, the playing is gutsy as well as eloquent – volume and echo tamed to good use - and Catalano’s vocal is emotively engaged and engaging rather than forceful.

Cover songs include Dark End of the Street, Percy Sledge; Bad Moon Rising, CCR; I’m On Fire, Bruce Springsteen; Money, Pink Floyd, and to demonstrate their contemporariness, Grounds for Divorce, Elbow, with fuzzed slide guitar. ZZ Top's Blue Jean Blues gets a slowed dirty blues caress. The album can be downloaded from here.

If you go to their website, you can listen to some of the tracks from their album Homewrecker. The format is obviously the same, though musically [from what I’ve heard – haven’t managed to listen to all and am uncertain if all are available] there is more variety, for example the reggae of Haunted Heart. Interesting lyrics to the songs as well.  

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Major Surgery - The First Cut

Excellent Any Time

I’m just listening to an outstanding reissue of the 1976 album Major Surgery - The First Cut, with saxophonist Don Weller and guitarist Jimmy Roche. The sax playing is relentlessly paced and brilliant throughout. As so often when I am reviewing I am listening in tandem, and at the moment the delightfully titled Don’t Wait For The Shrimp Boat Mother – Father’s Come Home With Crabs is playing, guitar and sax weaving wonderful textures together, and then Weller solos in great acrobatic displays, though always melodically.

Had a pause to listen and now Roche is soloing expertly.....and there they go having merged again.....and now they’re duelling. Tony Marsh does blistering drums [check out Dog and Bullfight]; Bruce Collcut romping on bass duties. British jazz of the time par excellence. 

Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos

Heavily Eclectic

Hot on the heels of reviewing last night’s excellent melodic folkpop gig, here is a request review of Michael Monroe’s latest, a singer/multi-instrumentalist entirely new to me coming as he does from a glam rock pedigree which I do not know. My ignorance isn’t borne of the disregard I have for the 80s [by and large] by the way: the key word here is ‘Rock’ and so my proclivities lean towards rather than away: I just never listened at the time nor since, unless it plays on Planet Rock for example, or like now.

Monroe is Finnish and is best known by those who know as the lead singer in band Hanoi Rocks [which is actually from the 80s, so they must have been waylaid beneath the synth drumming et al of all the other stuff I didn’t stick with].  

But to this latest release. Opener TNT Diet is formulaic hard rock, the ‘TNT’ placing linguistic markers for the heavy sound, and Monroe’s guitar shreds are indeed explosive, though it comes and goes in forgettable if lively brevity. Next Ballad of the Lower East Side is New York punk, both in style and language – a genuine sounding Brooklyn lilt to whores [not bad for a Finnish native] – and I actually detect a little country twang in the guitar playing, so that is a surprise. But nothing yet to really excite. Then third Eighteen Angels ignites the real TNT, an old-rock riff-heavy gem that blows the preceding two out of their relative complacency. And there is in this, as in others, a smattering of The Rolling Stones so I guess that is a part of the appeal. It is actually in the harmonising chorus. When the harmonica gets belted out I’m ecstatic – this is how rock should be played: heavy blues in the influence. It’s a great song, especially extremely loud in the car last night driving to that antithetical gig [music has to be the Art form that provides the broadest glorious range to like and love].

Next Saturday Night Special returns to that formulaic rock sound I can take or leave. Fifth Stained Glass Heart is back to an RS echo – just faint, and not pastiche – and I like this too, sounding like it wouldn’t have been out of place on Voodoo Lounge. Sixth, title track Horns and Halos, is riff rich and marries heaviness with Roxy Music harmonies – no, really. Another fine one. Other stand-outs for me are eighth Soul Surrender with its ironic reggae rhythms before it merges into its grinding heaviness, and back again. Tenth Ritual showcases the vocal a la Billy Idol [I am a creature of reference points when reviewing, I know] and eleventh Hands Are Tired has Monroe on saxophone and displaying his range, though the song stays rooted in its glam/heavy/punk rock arena, and I’m fine with that. Penultimate Happy Neverafter is a clever title, the song rocking finely with bright harmonies, and closer Don’t Block the Sun is Monroe meets Tom Petty, so in conclusion I will commend the rock-rooted eclecticism and musicianship. And Eighteen Angels will have a worthy place in my next ‘heavy’ compilation, as I suspect will one or two others. An enjoyable discovery, thanks M. 

Morning Rush - Exeter Phoenix, 27th August, 2013

Playing at the Royal Albert Hall, no less
A Hopeful Rising From The Phoenix

Morning Rush: an apt name for a band playing this bright and breezy music and for my eagerness to listen to their EP first thing today, having downloaded in the early hours after last night’s ‘farewell’ gig in Exeter.  

‘Bright and breezy’: that suggests pop music, and I think it is, though I like to refer to the ‘pop sensibilities’ of a band when the take is this intelligent and mature. But more important, it’s the writing and playing. The playing is as infectious as the songcraft, and the band excels with their harmonising – and any regular readers will know by now my affinity for vocal harmony.

I’m sure the band has its contemporary touchstones, yet in the way I like to reference my own, I kept thinking of Andrew Gold as I listened to their set last night: not exactly sounding like him, but in the credibility they give to their sound. Then there’s America [listen to the start of Where Our Heart Is – but this song also immediately establishes its contemporary roots as it goes into its semi-rap...and then the complexity of those vocal harmonies and criss-crosses: impressive]. I also thought of Freedy Johnston, and then in one even more impressive moment, Crosby, Stills and Nash. Their EP song P.S. reminds of The Civil Wars.

I know it isn’t any of the above directly, but these are genuine reference points from an older listener. But enough of the precursors, though in wanting to return to the now one has to also reference the ‘farewell’ aspect of the gig. The five young guys are all about to go off to University, each to their separate geographical location – one already studying abroad – and whilst lead singer Sam Luca declared they would be back and performing at holiday breaks, the future as a band must be uncertain. It is an exciting time for each one of them – the cliché of new opportunities nonetheless a reality.

On stage the band has a musical rapport which is as fresh as their singing and songwriting. It’s great to see amped acoustic guitar as lead instrument, played by Luca, and in drummer Pip Arnold, the vocal harmonising he provides is superb, at times soaring at the high end, or even taking on alternative, additional narrative lines – this latter representing some of those more complex vocal structures. It’s good to see a drummer - at the back so often - musically at the front! But the tightness of the whole band is what also impresses.

Morning Rush is recording and finishing an album, and naturally many of the excellent songs played at last night’s gig will feature – hints at times in these of funky and soulful influences, broadening their sound. For now, you can still get their EP here – pay what you will – and this will definitely tempt you to that forthcoming release. 

In the reality that is five young guys going their separate ways, the band may not survive, though their performances clearly will in the memories of devoted fans, family and friends who were all given a heartfelt thanks last night for their support over recent years. And of course their music will too. In the other reality that is all about talent, there is plenty of music within these individuals and one can only hope that if the band does indeed end there will be other beginnings. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Zabu - My Coffin's Ready, 1972

French Blues Vocal In English

I have just come across this fine French blues album – though you wouldn’t know it’s French – performed by Lucien Zabuski who used to be the vocalist for Magma, though I think he left before their first release. Not sure; still learning.

For the vocal think Edgar Broughton and you’d have a perfect reference point for the sound in its growl and emotion. The songs are basically a rock blues with some soulful singing, but also generic rather than original – not that this matters at all because that is what you should expect and want if listening to this: and Zabu’s vocal is superb in that style already noted.  

Track five Silent Angel is a delightful exception, a jazz number enlivened by the saxophone playing and Zabu’s more expressive vocal, here sounding like Roger Chapman. The French band is excellent [and if you want the full cast list, check it out here], but it is the sax soloing that plays wonderfully off the voice, though I’m not sure if the lead is Teddy Lasry or Yochk’o Seffer [and there is a Laurent Grangier who plays too], and I like the guitar work woven amongst the saxophone, presumably played by Dominique Frideloux.

Sixth Subversion Blues is another song sticking its head above the rest, a gothic/horror riff [you just recognise it, don’t you?] and the manic shrieks and ringing bell add a further sense of menace – a song that really must be used is any one of the zombie films/series so popular at the moment: The Waking Dead meets Zabu.

The album closes on a punk amalgam of country and rock, Yellow Girl, the opening bluegrass fiddle disappearing as a sound as quickly as it has started. What a tease. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Isley Brothers - Harvest For The World, 1976 - Top Fifty

Sweetest Mantra

The Isley Brothers sing on this album the sweetest of sweet soul music, Ronald Isley’s falsetto at the heart of all vocals, solo and in harmony. The title song is as beautiful as any beautiful soul sound can be, here at the smooth and soft prettiness point of that pretty spectrum – handclaps providing what funk there is, especially as it rises within the closing chorus that repeats the title. This of course has been set up by the gorgeous Prelude that begins the album, the melodrama of piano strains and crashing symbols beneath the thumping drums with Ronald’s plaintive plea for a harvest for the world, a harvest for the people, gather all together, a harvest for the children.

But if you want some funk, you’ve got it with third People of Today, oh yeah yeah. And then fourth Who Loves You Better is psychedelicised into the mix with Ernie Isley’s signature guitar sound, wah-wahing in that beautiful tone he makes his own. Suitably funked we are returned to the loved-up caress of fifth At Your Best [You Are Love] where Ronald’s vocal and Ernie’s guitar coalesce in the height of their honeyed sensuousness. This is as perfect as such soulful sonorousness can be, before next Let Me Down Easy usurps with its deeper groove of soft resonance as Ronald sings with a melancholy that soothes in its despair, but only in the loving paradox and mantra of anticipation, if ever you were to leave me