Thursday, 31 October 2013

Susanna - Wild Dog

Oh Susanna

Norwegian Susanna Wallumrod [there should be a forward slash through the o] has a gorgeous voice, a cross between Joni Mitchell and Feist, and the self-penned songs on this 21012 album remind of both these singers in musical style too. That’s perfect company for me, and one more can be added, the Bjork lilt in the pronunciations, at times, but it is also just simply a beautiful album throughout.

Howl That Dares To Be Different

A howl is like a room – this one large, near empty
and bellowing out in echo – with just the furniture
of its nightmare and scream: the red curtains hung
to a choke, one bed beneath which the darkness is so
deep you have to reach in and find that compulsion,
white utilities to splash on continuing patterns,
doors opening so slow in their groans that time
turns waiting into one long and last heartbeat. Then
the howl. Out of that death comes the cry so loud
it is a hotel of emptied rooms wherein reverberations
will bring the evil of its edifice to the hard ground.

Because in any room there should be the lifeblood of
things like ornaments and mementos, walls to ceiling
packed with things to fully absorb and kill that sound.

Perhaps breaking whatever mystique there might be, this is a 'found' Halloween poem prompted by my misreading last night of a digital advertising board at the televised Real Madrid vs Sevilla game. What I initially read as Howls that dare to be different was actually Hotels that dare to be different. There you go. Error creates.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Jimi and Me in England - BBC's Imagine: Jimi Hendrix - Hear My Train A Comin'

Nearly The Same

I watched a little of tonight's recorded BBC Imagine programme about Jimi Hendrix, and look forward to finishing. If you like Hendrix there's not much that's new, but hearing it all again is damn fine, and there is some great various early performance footage. One of the interesting facts is that Jimi first came to England in September 1966, just about one year ahead of me. He made one hell of an impact; I'm still trying.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Tommy Malone - Natural Born Days

Knock-out Punch

Another journeyman gem outshining the pale but popular competition of those better known, there is in this excellent mix the sound of Boz Scaggs and Bobby Womack, for example God Knows [Just Ain’t Talkin’], but throughout it is soulful, funky – the occasional reggae rhythms in Wake Up Time - and always Malone’s guitar punching as a champ. The title track has a joyous echo of The Band. Hallelujah.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Roy Harper - Colston Hall, Bristol, 27th October, 2013

Still Batting at the Crease

On the same day as septuagenarian Lou Reed passed, I was watching septuagenarian Roy Harper playing a blissful if understandably reflective gig at Bristol. Many of his generation of musical greats are leaving us, not surprisingly because of their age and the ravages of, for quite a few, lives lived in a lane most of us could only ever imagine travelling – through we have journeyed by proxy through their wonderful songs – and this vulnerability on the continuing spiral of life’s mortal coil for those still performing adds that extra poignancy, if a little sentimental, in seeing them perhaps one last time.

Not that Harper seemed ready to go anywhere, other than home for a deserved rest after a truly wonderful and full performance on a night that presaged storms which never really bothered us in Bristol, nor on the still uplifted journey back to my home afterwards. Indeed, with respect to aging, Harper was self-effacing – and a little naughty, for two reasons – when he introduced the beautiful song January Man from his latest album Man and Myth. It was ‘naughty’ because he firstly claimed it was a song about a 70 year old man lusting after 25 year old women and being ignored [joking he’d forgotten to look in the mirror in the morning], and secondly because he actually made light of the song’s meaning in this way where in fact it is so clearly and tenderly and movingly about growing older, having regrets but also the honesty to articulate this.

Accompanied by a beautiful string and brass ensemble, playing arrangements by David Bedford who Harper remembered fondly, and by Jonathan Wilson who produced Harper’s latest [and performed an opening solo spot, a delightful bonus on the night], Roy played a surprising number from Man and Myth – pleasing me and my close friend also there, and who had seen Roy with Led Zeppelin at Bath in 1969 – and these included the other sweet track Time is Temporary and the epic Heaven is Here. Roy’s vocal was so strong. As I recently commented when reviewing M&M, his bass to falsetto range is still impressive on record, and now confirmed live too: absolutely startling. And the guitar work also continues to be so distinctive and brilliant.

Other highlights in two sets of sustained highlights were Me and My Woman and the delicate, gorgeous North Country Girl. I thought that after my emotional reaction to seeing Crosby, Stills and Nash recently I might have a similar response, a response born from an accumulation of overwrought nostalgia through seeing these great artists in the twilight of their careers and lives: it is in what they represent through their talents and how the music prompts the reverie of times gone and, as a consequence, the brush with that fragility and vulnerability I mentioned at the start of this review – but I didn’t. And when Roy closed on an encore of When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease, I simply wanted him to play on and on, uplifted, as I have said, by his commanding presence in the here and now and by his continuing intellect, wry humour and enjoyment in performing.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Roy Harper Day

I'm currently listening to Harper's fourth album, Flat Baroque and Berserk, released in 1970, and sought out the wonderful lyrics to Tom Tiddler's Ground, reminding me of the poet that so fully complements the musician.

Listening to Song of the Ages [itself lyrically so sweet] I was reminded that back then I first heard Roy on sampler lps - and the radio/TV to a degree - but I didn't have a Roy Harper album for some time, and this song was on the Harvest double sampler Picnic. But the first Roy Harper song I think I will have heard was on the 1968 CBS sampler The Rock Machine Turns You On, and it was Nobody's Got Any Money In The Summer from his second and 1967 album Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith. Loved it then; love it now.

And right now, the lyrics for Song of the Ages,

there's a house on a hillside in a picture book  
where he stands with his mother as I stop and look  
he's a child of the northlands with his long golden hair  
and his smile running wild

in the snow by the campfire where the nights are long  
you can hear his daddy sing a very old song  
and his mummy's a beautiful lady in love  
and she washes his eye with the fair stars above
song of the ages

and there's a ship set for sailing the rolling sea  
there's a little hand waving goodbye to me 
fare thee well my loved ones, I'll see you soon  
I'll be laughing along some old afternoon

Roy Harper and the Hurricane

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!
But do not make this expectant man ingrateful
by stopping him getting to Roy Harper’s gig
tonight in Bristol!

And he does actually look like he'd make a good Lear......

Saturday, 26 October 2013

In A Field - Seamus Heaney

And there I was in the middle of a field,
The furrows once called ‘scores’ still with their gloss,
The tractor with its hoisted plough just gone

Snarling at an unexpected speed
Out on the road. Last of the jobs,
The windings had been ploughed, furrows turned

Three ply or four round each of the four sides
Of the breathing land, to mark it off
And out. Within the boundary now

Step the fleshy earth and follow
The long healed footprints of one who arrived
From nowhere, unfamiliar and demobbed.

In buttoned khaki and buffed army boots,
Bruising the turned-up acres of our back field
To stumble from the windings’ magic ring

And take me by the hand to lead me back
Through the same old gate into the yard
Where everyone has suddenly appeared,

All standing waiting.

The Guardian has printed what may well be Seamus Heaney's last written poem - though we could never really know - and it is based on Edward Thomas' well-known poem As The Team's Head Brass, and was commissioned by Carol Ann Duffy for a soon to be published memorial anthology of poems  marking the centenary of the First World War.

For me it simply resonates with what we come to expect of his verse: the puissance of a moment captured, real or imaginary, and this moment steeped in the familiar and earthy metaphors of Heaney's home and life. He is also here, as always, the constant craftsman: the controlling effect of enjambement, and the pacings and further control - perhaps balancings - of the occasional iambic pentameter: The long healed footprints of one who arrived; how the third stanza imitates the act of ploughing a field. He knew what he was doing, always, and he did it so well and so naturally. I love the simplicity but visual exactitude of a line like The furrows once called ‘scores’ still with their gloss.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Crosby, Stills and Nash - Colston Hall, Bristol, 17th October, 2013

Nearly, But No Blubbering

I am still buzzing/affected by Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Thursday concert, and being reminded now in other ways by listening to a bootleg of their Royal Albert Hall performance on the 9th October where the set list was very similar.

This review could be either extremely long in its unbridled enthusiasm, or brief – but still in its unbridled enthusiasm. Needs must and I will go for the latter. Or try to. One interesting place to start is in stating that on stage you had someone who played with Buffalo Springfield, someone who played with The Hollies, and someone who played with The Byrds. Consummate credibility already. And then you had the three members of their first incarnation, and then with the addition of Neil Young, and variously after that [Stills/Young, for example, and more consistently Crosby and Nash as a duo] and these guys played Woodstock and became the epitome of the West Coast sound and just so much phenomenally more. That lineage/history had massive much to do with the highly emotive state I found myself in when seeing them on Thursday.

I don’t normally sing along at gigs, but when I tried to join in with those opening first classic songs – Carry On and Questions – I found myself welling up. Pathetic I know, but I am not embarrassed to admit, and I think it was all about the expectation of going to see these musical giants but also, obviously, all that history of what they have achieved and how much their early days impacted on my youth and consequently my views and attitudes and – well, you know the powerful symbiosis that exists between adolescence and musical [and the other within: lyrical, political, reminiscence] influence. It was all there.

Needless to say I didn’t blubber at those early moments and nor did I later when I managed to sing along to other classics. And they were the classics, as well as very recent and other material along their long way together and separately. Each in fact got their solo spotlights, even if this was together but focusing on the songwriting individuality.

I’m not going to review the music because it doesn’t need that. But what matters is how they sounded now: the vocal harmonising was as outstanding as ever, Crosby and Nash in particular quite pristine. The backing band was remarkably tight and gifted in support, but it was the three up front and centre and foregrounded on the mics that carried the evening to its aural heights. Stephen Stills is known to have hearing difficulties and a consequent impact on his vocals, but this wasn’t even that noticeable on his solo contributions, and certainly not in unison. Or if it was noticeable – I don’t need to whitewash this performance – it was the simple reality of age and the years of whatever was done to affect that. And Stills’ gravelly, bluesy vocal had such an impact that evening, as did his superb guitar soloing: the crackling of the feedback controlled into the most mellow of full, beautiful sound, but also erupting into the wildest rock. The Crosby/Nash duet of Guinevere, performed thousands of times by these two, was sublime.

The gig began precisely at 8pm, the guys had a 20 minute break, and then it finished at just after 11pm, all packed with quality and even more history in the making for me. Closing songs were Almost Cut My Hair – Crosby’s vocal soaring in its clarity – and then Wooden Ships, with the encore – and as Nash said, it couldn’t be any other, not having been played yet – Sweet Judy Blue Eyes. There had been standing ovations throughout the set, and I was one of the first, compelled to react [so much better than shedding tears, no matter how joyous!], so can you imagine the reaction at the very end?!

And do you know, I’m still buzzing.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Willie Nelson - To All the Girls...

Eighteen at Eighty

The prodigious Willie Nelson’s latest is quite simply perfection, and to use someone else’s calculations, at 80 years old this is Nelson’s 96th studio album and his 32nd of the 21st century! The epitome of sustainability.

And the epitome of Country talent, though whilst the genre so clearly defines him, he is also one of the greatest popular singer/songwriter musicians, ever. On this duets album he gets to perform with the following across 18 tracks: Dolly Parton, Miranda Lambert, The Secret Sisters, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Wynonna Judd, Carrie Underwood, Loretta Lynn, Alison Krauss, Melonie Canon, Mavis Staple, Norah Jones, Shelby Lynne, Lily Meola, Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile, Paula Nelson, Tina Rose.

I have my favourite partnerships, but everything is delightful. Songs include other favourites like Always On My Mind, Grandma’s Hands, and Have You Seen the Rain. Is it traditional Country? Oh Yee-haw Yeah!