Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Some Awe's Top Twenty Albums, 2013

Roy Harper - Man & Myth
Had to be this one from the great man. January Man is beautiful and plaintively honest in its reflection on age and regrets; Heaven is Here is a Harper tour de force.
Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa – Seesaw
Bonamassa is the current guitar genius out there, and songwriter. Paired with the astonishing vocal of Hart and this has to be a winner, and is.
Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses) - The Low Highway
Always brilliant. Always.
Gregory Porter - Liquid Spirit
Third album of superb jazz vocal, his most mature to date.
Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Could have had this at number one if I listened to Elephant again, perhaps the strongest song written this year. Beautiful and painful.
Low - The Invisible Way
Exquisite harmonies on beautifully written melodies.
Fire! Orchestra - Exit!
Blew me away when I first heard it. Such energy and power. Phenomenal jazz.
The Temperance Movement - The Temperance Movement
Of all the current retro rock bands, the most deserving of an accolade. Have worked hard at earning recognition above and beyond the quality of their playing and songwriting. Seeing them live was icing on this presentation cake.
Tedeschi Trucks Band - Made Up Mind
A stunning set of songs played excellently throughout.
Caroline Rose - America Religious
As a new singer/songwriter she has established herself firmly with this honest and poetic reflection.
Kings Of Leon – Supersoaker
It’s what they do and continue to do so well. RockPop of the highest quality.
Dhafer Youssef - Birds Requiem
The vocal is sublime. Stunning beauty.
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell - Old Yellow Moon
Pairing of two greats = greatness.
David Bowie - The Next Day
As crucial as ever, Where Are We Now? sends chills when I listen.
Darrell Scott & Tim O'Brien - Memories and Moments
Such a spontaneous feel with superb chemistry. Virtuoso playing, and Country blues par excellence.
Boz Scaggs – Memphis
Mr Cool as smooth as the coolest smooth on this mainly laid-back gem.
Linda Thompson - Won't Be Long Now
As with so many others in this selection, when you are one of the greats, your greatness continues. If I Were A Bluebird is special.
Nick Harper – Riven
No accident to join the list with his father: an album of dynamic songs and distinctive performances.
Patrick Sweany - Close to the Floor
New to me and not that well known [unless it’s just me] but some outstanding songs.
London Grammar – If You Wait
A late entrant and winner as I’m only just discovering. Hannah Reid’s vocal is special and carries it for me: and yes, my contempt for the otherwise contemporary female vocal affectation is thoroughly repressed by Reid’s pure and powerful voice. 

NB I'd read somewhere that Uncut had chosen Roy Harper's Man & Myth as its number 1 album of the year, but this isn't true. The magazine's editor Allen Jones did, but the magazine as a whole selected My Bloody Valentine's m b v. Mojo magazine choose Bill Callahan's Dream River.

Ruth Copeland - I Am What I Am [1971]

Incendiary Edification

Ruth Copeland is an English singer with an amazing voice, and it gets a brilliant outing on her second solo album I Am What I Am. Singing in her early career on Parliament’s first album, it’s not surprising that her voice is full of sassy soul, and it is also pleasing that ace guitarist Eddie Hazel from that band guests with his superb licks on this lp. Album opener The Medal is a powerful anti-war rock onslaught where the combustive emotion in Copeland’s vocal and Hazel’s guitar playing jointly ignite. There’s a spunky version of Gimme Shelter, Copeland’s scream piercingly exciting, and Hare Krishna is a soulful break from the more sedate chant associated with the title. Don’t You Wish You Had [What You Had When You Had It] is a Ruth Copeland/George Clinton-penned rockfunkfest, Eddie edifying with classy fuzz and wah-wah. Copeland and Clinton combine as writers again on the soulful Crying Has Made Me Stronger, but I’m not sure you could or should get away today with the caustic opening lyrics You have murdered, raped the soul of me: every feeling I felt for you; now you come to me, wanting me back: crying has made me stronger – though Copeland’s vocal clearly emotes the pain and defiance of the storyline. Ruth and Eddie co-write on another funky and delightful track Suburban Family Lament where domestic strife gets a hyperbolic narrative.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Priscilla Coolidge - Gypsy Queen [1971]

The Ties That Blind

Priscilla Coolidge – sister to Rita and wife to Booker T [who produced and arranged this album] – is apparently, and unfortunately, and now ironically, destined to being referenced by these relationships rather than her music because she didn’t produce a large body of work or appear on the Old Grey Whistle Test with a different husband Kris Kristofferson and perform one of the most sensuous duets ever. But Gypsy Queen is a fine if uneven album, and perhaps that variable set of songs rather than any shifting in quality of performance means it isn’t that well known.

There are fine tracks: opener On The Road has a bluesy guitar riff and organ thrusts to set off Priscilla’s full and soaring voice, fuzzed guitar and vocal harmony adding some soul and funk; second Let It Shine has cool acoustic guitar and foregrounded percussion to underpin a fuller and sensual vocal that does scat effectively towards the end; third Gypsy King is slowed to an almost spoken pace, but this does allow Coolidge to place emphasis on inflections, and it is at times deeply pure. And these are three of the seven self-penned songs on the album. Sixth T My T is an odd inclusion, a honky tonk snippet that is either genuinely or artificially like a demo take. Seventh Good Morning Freedom is the strongest track and has a heavy climbing riff over which Coolidge’s vocal is at some of its most gutsy on the album. A number of the songs are rather short and even appear truncated and this probably adds to the overall sense of unevenness, but eleventh and closer Hummingbird is the longest at six minutes, and whilst slow, it has a gospel feel [perhaps the organ] and the vocal is centre stage, strong and quite beautiful.  

Some Awe’s Best of 2013 – Additionals

Just Like Midlake, In...

As I already stated with the initial posting here, I was bound to forget a few, or there would be some recent releases, so here is the additional to place with this list which I will need to conclude as a top 20 [or 10] tomorrow. Having looked at various others’ lists, for example The Guardian, it’s clear that my listening errs on the side of older and/or oldies in terms of genre and artists!

Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost
John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
London Grammar – If You Wait
Midlake – Anticipation
The Oh Hellos - The Oh Hellos’ Family Christmas Album   

I’m sure there are more remembered, but forgotten again. Until tomorrow.

Oliver - Standing Stone [1974]


This is self-recorded by Oliver Chapman in Wales in early 1974 and using a variety of techniques to create unusual – especially when electric – effects on guitar and vocal. The playing is mainly blues, but there are touches of folk and Country, and as a genre, AcidFolk is probably the nearest in categorising what is refreshing experimentation, especially for a solo artist. Musical touchstones would embrace The Incredible String Band and Captain Beefheart. Heavier tracks that appeal particularly are Trance [great fuzz and other distortions]; Freezing Cold Like An Iceberg [blues slide and howling wind and distorted vocal]; Cat and the Rat [staccato distortions and Beefheart-esque vocal], and Telephone [pretty folk acoustic guitar beginning and then wah-wah with more vocal playfulness]. Truly distinctive and engaging.

Original private-press vinyl release of 250 copies; cd re-release in 1999

Saturday, 28 December 2013

McPhee [1972]

Heavy Covers

This is the sole release from Australian progrock band McPhee, and it is excellently heavy though achieving this through the covers of songs that clearly influenced their sound, for example Spooky Tooth from whom the Aussies [also New Zealanders, and English born drummer Terry Popple] grab their opener The Wrong Time as well as I Am The Walrus – the Beatles song, yes – both of these tracks appearing on ST’s album The Last Puff. It is all mainly riff-scorching guitar and swirling organ, and there are further interesting covers: Neil Young’s Southern Man [with loads of that heavy guitar], and then Richie Havens’ [via Julie Driscoll/Brian Auger] Indian Rope Man [great driving organ]. The strongest element for me is the powerful vocal of Faye Lewis, brilliantly so on IRM, though she loses out timewise to the guitar and organ soloing.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Heaven - Brass Rock 1 [1971]

Rock Arousal

Another jazzrock [with horns] band, this British group formed in 1968, releasing this sole excellent album in 1971, and are hardly in the BS&T/Chicago mould having a much heavier overall sound [though early Chicago did too]. My favourites on the whole album are those with the Edgar Broughton-esque vocals, so opener Things I Should’ve Been, fifth Song For Chaos, seventh Number One – Last Request and eighth Number Two – Down At The Mission. Elsewhere you’ll hear occasional Country tinges and other vocal harmonising erring on the side of folk-pretty, but the album ends on the wah-wah guitar and percussion dominant gem Got To Get Away. It’s all a rousing way to deliver Rock.

Goodness and Mercy [1970]

Not Psalms 23:6, But Righteous All The Same

This is an outstanding brassrock album, holding its own musically with Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago, but not in terms of popularity. That musical match to the two mentioned and most famous horn bands isn’t, admittedly, in the songwriting department, but in performance there is an exuberance and jazzrock sensibility, including strong vocal in Dave Talisman, that competes well if you like the genre. This is best reflected in third track You Can’t Make Me Love You where the fuzzed guitar and stabbing horn arrangements swirl around the growl of Talisman. Fourth Dirty Annie is a fine BS&T clone, homage to their musically righteous soul/gospel sound. Fifth Hello LA/Bye Bye Birmingham is a solid soulful version of this Bramlett/Davis number and forms a neat trio of strong performances. Sixth Bring Back Funky Women provides space for solos from Jerry Grant on sax and, more fully, Harry Kim on trumpet. There’s a requisite whimsy in seventh Thousand Pound Woman, and eighth Make It Easy On Yourself foregrounds Talisman’s great growl again, with the organ peal of Peter Martin and the rouse of more jazzy horn arrangements. The album closes at its most psychedelic with The Circus Man and its fuzzed guitar solo by John Trombatore, the whole number wrapped in percussion.