Monday, 31 March 2014

Righteous Anger

Righteous anger – the story of my life. And who listens
anyway, those ‘likes’ on social media the cold comfort
of a click, and comments come from the converted
so it’s not as if a battle has been fought and won. Is it me
alone hearing the hurt, anger and then clever riposte, or
god above whose nothingness means heaven’s gate is
dissolving as I speak? Freud would have something to say
on self-satisfaction, but this too is open to debate, not that
it’s an argument I want to make, saving myself for a cause.
The rant and rail rolls off the tongue, so to speak, and that
is another clever line in rhetoric, but who else really knows
how much this conceals the different part of anger which is
pain? To those genuinely listening, and who have heard it
all before, this might be one more complaint like a refrain.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Delines - I Won't Slip Up

Speaking Up

Here's a powerful taster from the forthcoming album Colfax from The Delines, Willy Vlautin's new band. It's naturally in a similar Richmond Fontaine americana vein, fronted by the female vocal of Amy Boone, and telling also a typical Vlautin tale of everyday pain and hope for something better in life as the narrator speaks up for herself whilst also asking for help. Listen here.

Vlautin is a significant, talented musician and writer. I'm working on a major textbook at the moment and have included an extract of dialogue from Vlautin's wonderful book Lean on Pete to exemplify the effectiveness of presenting speech simply and yet realistically - he has a great writer's ear and  instinctive craft for presenting the powerful realism of ordinary lives, reminding of his hero Steinbeck as well as Carver.

Nebraska 21: Mark Orton - Nebraska


The laid-back fiddle of Mark Orton’s opener New Pie contrasts sharply with the lively trumpeting on Tin Hat’s [MO’s band] second New West and it’s clear there will be no singular Paris/Texas soundscape on this original soundtrack, underpinned immediately by the semi-classical clarinet on third Herbert’s Story.

I’ve yet to see the film, and no doubt the songs are linked closely to storyline and scenes and thus their divergent tones and moods are anchored by this. Purely as a listening experience it is just OK, though abstracted from their filmic counterparts, individual tracks are more transient background than grippers.

Fender Standard Stratocaster Plus Top in Aged Cherry Burst

Not For Nothing

Not top of the range, not bottom of the range, not brand spankin' new, but now mine.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Blue Cheer - Highlights and Low Lives

Rock Revival

Having watched Man United lose to Man City tonight, badly, I wanted to blow the frustration and anger away so turned to this 1990 album for some mindless wild rock and frankly this fit the requirement perfectly and loudly. Big fan of early Blue Cheer, I haven't always liked their much later stuff, but this is heavy enough from one of the originally heaviest of bands. I think the band's name pretty much encapsulates my two emotions experienced tonight when watching and then listening.

Wishbone Ash, Once: Muscle Car and Friends

Kaiser Chiefs - Education, Education, Education & War

Lifted Laughter

The Kaiser Chiefs’ latest is being streamed at the Guardian – and likely elsewhere – so I’ve had a listen and may review at a later date, though I suspect not. That’s no criticism. For various reasons, I’ve always been fond of the band, and have enjoyed their live gigs loads. Like many, there is an interest in the band post-Nick Hodgson as he was clearly such a creative as well as performing force. And as a final comment in/on the trending commentating mix, I couldn’t care less about Ricky Wilson appearing on The Voice: it’s not as if he has cast off a strident alternative persona, and why should anyone be annoyed that he is seeking to further [or not, it’s his own risk] his career?

On a quick listen, the songs on the album are as one would expect – anthemic quite often [those choruses, as on second Coming Home], and their Englishness is, for me, healthily narrated in the domestic preoccupations of the lyrics, and even seagull effects as on opener The Factory Gates.

My main reason for writing this morning is to make this single observation: the laughing sections on Misery Company [liking the guitar work on this] would appear to be lifted straight from The Greatest Show on Earth’s song Real Cool World from their 1970’s album Horizons – but then I really can’t imagine any in the band listening to this brilliant if relatively esoteric progressive album from the past. Perhaps the inspiration is The Laughing Policeman.....

Monday, 24 March 2014

Written in the Stars: Martin Turner Plays The Music Of Wishbone Ash + Curved Air + The Acoustic Strawbs - Corn Exchange, Exeter, 23rd March, 2014

Loads or Little Hair

A short but appreciative comment on last night's nostalgic gig at the Corn Exchange, and as a technical senior citizen I can comment without being patronising on the propensity in the male audience of this middle-to-late aged, middle class, middle income cohort [with understood exceptions] to either have loads of long hair, if greying, to very little at all.

The Strawbs themselves are confidently hirsute for their age, and they played a brief acoustic and 'historical' set running a snapshop timeline through their hits here and in North America. Narrated by Dave Cousins, it was a warm warm-up.

Curved Air played a tight, jazz-inflected set, that musical direction influenced by a healthy sampling of tracks from their latest release North Star which I am enjoying on a first listen [even the early Curved Air revisitings] and will review at a later date. They are a tight band and Sonja Kristina sings as dynamically as ever, and I enjoyed a brief chat with her after the set, reminding her I saw the band on their first ever tour. I'm sure she was impressed with this news.

Martin Turner Plays The Music Of Wishbone Ash headed the night, and this incarnation of the band played a really quite exquisite run through classic numbers, the dual guitaring of Ray Hatfield and Danny Willson being nothing short of consistently impressive. And such lovely vocal harmonies. Turner has a fine head of hair and looks and played the part of the rock star well: one wonders if this fullsome follicle feature plays any part in what irks Andy Powell about the man? Just an idle thought.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Larry Miller and his Band [support by Buffalo Angels] - Phoenix, Exeter - 20th March, 2014

Sublime Cosmic Noise

It’s Miller time, and goddamn that’s loud! I don’t recall seeing a PA system – but I was mesmerised by Miller’s playing from the very start and didn’t really look around much beyond his playing – and standing directly in line with his Marshall amp I think that was the sole source of the pulverising volume. My goodness this guy can play. Next to Jeff Beck, Larry Miller is the finest guitarist I have seen live in many, many years. He is a wiry denim-dressed explosion of energy with the most boyish sense of humour and banter. It is infectious. And he is a virtuoso guitarist. Great vocals too.

The Harvard team that has just discovered the cosmic inflation after the Big Bang should have attended a Larry Miller gig to see this in literal action. Indeed, as we continue to confirm there was no divinity in the creation of all we are - just some fortuitous if phenomenal collision to begin without a beginning [that’s the bit we can’t conceptualise, isn’t it?] - it is worth postulating that primordial B-mode polarisation may have indeed created the universe, but more importantly, its gravitational waves and ripples provided the cosmic foundation for the evolution of the electric guitar and axemen like Larry Miller to play its universal Rock reality with such sublime skill. [As a committed Christian, Miller wouldn't agree with the extended analogy here, but I trust he'd appreciate the compliment!].

Last night’s gig at the Phoenix was set in motion by the fine local blues band Buffalo Angels. With Julian Piper and Andy Knight on guitars they too have a pair of cosmically charged atoms in this universal lineage of six-string mastery. Such a fine amalgam and mix of slide and finger-picked blues, as well as one Country blues number that I particularly enjoyed. With Ian Jennings on double bass and Richard Glazebrook on drums, this foursome was such an instinctive and enjoyable support for Miller. 

Buffalo Angels

Larry and his Band - Graham Walker on drums and Derek White on bass - played a blistering set. Miller’s guitar playing is clearly influenced by and invokes brilliantly that of Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore. I was struck by the lack of use of effects, particularly wah-wah [though he did indulge this in penultimate set number Voodoo Chile], and with Miller it is all volume and virtuoso skill which includes that glorious finesse of feedback great players possess naturally. Final set number was a beautiful cover of Parisienne Walkways. Miller also played some 'acoustic' songs [though amped up if you'll excuse the paradox] on respectively acoustic guitar, dobra and mandolin, and here too he excelled, the vocal perhaps a little more on show – and he sings with emotional abandon. Wonderful. 

I don’t believe it’s possible to catch the essence of Larry Miller in studio recordings, so his most recent Live and Outlawed is a good place to start, though even this can’t capture the raw energy, volume and delightfully unaffected patter of Miller live on stage - but do listen especially to Calling All The Angels which is as beautiful and perfect as it gets, both in the songwriting and the emotive playing. His 2012 studio album On The Edge is brilliant and certainly does justice to his innate talent as player and songwriter. I’m not going to talk through the tracklist for this, but there is the full range of the blistering to the balladic, and it closes on a gorgeous instrumental in the PW vein: The Wrong Name [Part Two]

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Christina Skjolberg - Come And Get It

Open Door

Norwegian axegirl Christina Skjolberg wears her Hendrix on both an upper arm and metaphoric sleeve, appropriating the blues and funk from her hero’s influence and presenting it with plenty of her own impressionism. Opener Come And Get It is the star on this album, a truly funky pumping riff-driven gem, and what follows across the whole album chugs and stomps and pulsates with plenty of fine soloing and strong singing. Third track Close the Door actually holds it wide open on the Hendrix copying, and it’s a homage with adoring hinges. Fourth Bullet is another good one with clever lead-and-following; and then fifth Get On saunters in with neat jazz trumpeting over wondrous Superstition-esque keyboard. More influences happily received. Sixth Moving On is a pumping blues and by this stage is sustaining excellence. Penultimate and autobiographical Mrs Funk demonstrates the appellation is totally apt, and last song Nag Blues has stomp-walking bass driving a swirling organ and restrained guitar work to a surprising close after all the preceding action.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Eliza Gilkyson - The Nocturne Diaries

Much More Than Deserving

I have most and have listened to much of Eliza Gilkyson's considerable musical output and it is always excellent. Always. It is therefore a little embarrassing to say I don't remember any one song or even any one album distinctly. It would be faint praise to put that down to the universal excellence already mentioned, but I think this must actually be the case. The Nocturne Diaries would seem to fit that scenario as well, so again to wax lyrical will seem somewhat obtuse, but it is a beautiful [if at times downbeat lyrically] album. There are country tinges as on Eliza Jane and No Tomorrow, with sweet fiddle on the second, and opener Midnight Oil has some haunting soundscapes provided by Eliza's son Cisco Ryder who takes on overall production of the album. Fourth track An American Boy reflects the lyrical seriousness in a story about a young boy struggling with his life, with parents who keep the gun-case locked up tight: this reference adding another layer of horror to the story in seeming to provide the context itself as ordinary. But the boy contemplates blowing his world to kingdom come and we know where the storyline has its historical roots, past and present. The song finishes with a foreboding warning. Such a narrative is memorable, and perhaps this is the key: all of Gilkyson's melodies are well-crafted and perfectly played, but she does not put the catchiness of songcraft above lyrical integrity. I haven't expressed that as clearly as I want, but I know what I mean. I think my tentativeness is prompted by the guilt in not knowing her work better. It certainly deserves better.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

GOR in East Devon

Rock Fundamentals

Occasional covers band GOR played a private gig in East Devon last Saturday in support of South West sure-shots Thick as Thieves. Playing a trio of songs, GOR warmed the audience for the reveries ahead, starting with a mellow The Wind Cries Mary – a soft and slow version as if playing for the over-60s – and they then switched up to a buoyant version of Little Bit of Love. With Pete the P ripping it up on lead, Cool-M on rhythm and lead vocals, Styubud setting the pace on drums, and Glenn on bass, the band gave these classics a little bit of their own interpretation but let the familiarity do the major running. Their last number in this brisk set was a rousing rendition of the rock anthem Rockin’ In The Free World with P the P stonking on guitar licks, Cool-M singing with passion, Styubud continuing to hold the beat and adding harmony vocals, and Glenn seeming to get happily lost in the anthemic call to rock’n’roll for all its simple pleasures. There’s no deity greater than Rock, and GOR’s occasional worship at its altar reminds us all of the camaraderie in that righteous congregation.

Butchers of Sky Valley - Same [NoiseTrade]

Rock Baton

Here's an engaging enough rock/blues debut album, six years in the realisation and a number of band changes, and it can be obtained free or for a tip from NoiseTrade here, so it's a generous share and music better than a simple giveaway.

Opener Black Magic has perhaps the album's best rocker, so no surprise it leads, with a sweet grungechug and the fine vocal of Mike Mokotow. I like fourth Bereft Theft which is an atmospheric and crisply recorded ballad of sorts, but clever in the production to aid the songwriting. Seventh Pony Up picks up the rock and grunge baton again, though it doesn't carry as memorably as that strong opener.

There are songs on the album that sound like demos, for example the acoustic Young Blood, and others like Get Loose are slightly lackadaisical in their blues aspirations, the vocal here bereft of the emotion required. Tracks 8 and 9, respectively It's Not The Moon That Excites Me and Hold On, Heartbreak surge back slightly to Queens of the Stone Age homages, but the album ends on a largely instrumental filler.

So, uneven but with clear promise, and as you can have for free I recommend you give it a try. One gets the impression that with encouragement and a production rocket up a more stable band backside, a next effort could run with the baton all the way around the track.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Nuclear Nicety

A lovely birthday present from a good friend was a copy of a March 8th, 1954 Newsweek magazine. Obviously, the articles are fascinating, including one about Senator McCarthy, and the adverts are always good value in publications from this period. But this advert is simply stunning: using a nuclear cloud to advertise! The headline is a corker.

Nebraska 20 - Aunt Alma

This poem about my Aunt Alma, born in Elk Horn, Iowa, and who lived most of her life in Omaha, is also about Nebraska: there is the obvious namecheck, but the references to the heat and humidity are so much about that midwestern State, and then references to decals, flashlights, neon and the Interstate place it firmly in America too.

It is a poem that I wrote some time ago, one of the earliest that I had crafted so carefully and perhaps represents a change in my style from youthful randomness. It was written here in England – like so many I was reading Gunn and Hughes at the time [I’m not making comparisons, just obvious influences!] – and reflects a little the two voices I have in my writing. I know it signals its ruse too much and too often, and it is metaphor/simile heavy in the way aping better writers will promote. But it is of its time and whenever I read, I recall with affection the influential person it describes.

Aunt a la Recherche

The filter wears a crimson kiss;
mug-brims too sport
lipstick crescents with coffee stains.
She is tattooing things with codes,
a few decals announcing her like billboards.

From sentences sanded through larynx bobs
her phrases growl out to press into my ears –
nostalgia as condensed as humidity recalling
summer heat, sweat,
days spent listening to her deep speech.

The words are flashlights, beacons from inland.
Nebraska plains span in her open eyes,
stretch behind into memories.
Perfume and smoke are
morse-smells tapping messages –

[car fumes along the Interstate creep back from nowhere].
Downtown neons flash across her smile
and she coughs: thunder roars from lightning;
hail strips leaves, roof shingles, dreams.
Rain falls all day here.

Cigarette butts, used tissue, empty glass – through these
she leaves a refuse. Clearing up,
I pocket the ash burnt off a long story.
The room is a limbo just then,
a tableau hung in the now silent air.

The Answer with Empire of Fools and BlackWolf: The Phoenix, Exeter - 12th March, 2014

Empire of Rock

Exeter rocked last night as The Answer returned to the South West and played at The Phoenix, Exeter, having last visited and planted their grassroots take on retro-into-today rock husbandry at The Cavern in October 2011. The band was ably supported by locals [Torquay] Empire of Fools and the nationally emerging but relatively local too [Bristol] BlackWolf, two offshoots from the same rowdy roots, EoF perhaps leaning to some grunge but also some anthemic AOR a la fellow Torquayians Muse, though I may have just extrapolated rather than fully heard this. Listening to their EP Unstoppable today, I don’t think it’s my imagination, and in lead singer/bass player Mark Pascall, the trio has a vocalist who can soar with a prettier clarity than the growling of the other two bands’ singers. Ex Treatment’s guitarist Ben Brookland guested in the absence of EoF’s Steve Cobbin and he fronted some impressive licks.

The hirsute BlackWolf certainly looked the part, and I liked the vertical line of the 5-piece across the front of the stage, placed so because of The Answer’s waiting gear behind. This also placed BW’s drummer Thomas Lennox-Brown to the fore with his machine-gun drumming an excellent feature, and it’s good to hear this dominating on their album The Hunt too. 

Singer Scott Sharp has the rasp to deliver those harsher rock strains, but he also has a falsetto range which tugs their formulaic but rousing renditions to literal heights. Their debut album does impressive justice to the live lineage their performance presented. Rock horticulturalists and metaphor-followers will know what I mean.


The Answer were justified headliners, and whilst I’m not going to write much this isn’t to reflect less satisfaction but rather an acknowledgement of their established class. And I have reviewed the band and their work elsewhere on this blog. What struck me the most last night about their performance is just how much the band clearly love what they do. There’s no pretence; no grandstanding. These guys didn’t attend any posh Agricultural College of Rock. They are innate farmworkers in this extended figurative referencing which harks back to singer Cormac Neeson’s declaration of the band’s intention to revive rock’n’roll from the grassroots up. They continue to plough this furrow with gutsy conviction. 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Nebraska 19 - The Everly Brothers and Omaha


It's hard to remember Pittsburgh properly
It's hard to recall what I did in D.C.
No vivid remembrance of things in L.A.
The times and the places have all slipped away

In one too brief minute
My mind saw it all
The time and the place
Twelve o'clock noon


It seems that I found everything that I wanted
All in Omaha
Everything's there my love and my laughter
It's all in Omaha

I'm going back to Omaha
My Omaha
I'm going back to Omaha
Oh my Omaha

The rest of the world doesn't matter
When you find what you're after

Bells and candles – clocks that chime
Ribbons glass - lights that shine
Coloured paper – shiny beads
Everything that I need
You gave to me
In Omaha 

This is a beautiful song, quite plaintive in its tone, though the lyrics are almost - I stress 'almost' - surreal. There is the it seems which is an inexplicable caveat, and then the things described in the closing stanza are quite insubstantial, but there is no apparent irony or understatement intended.  And why at noon? And lights that shine - well, one would hope, though I'm guessing that's the expediency of rhyme. 

The song was recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1968, the year after I arrived in England, but it wasn't released until 1977 on their  New Album, but only in England! Some sort of symmetry in there I think.

There is another lovely version of this by Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Dawn McCarthy, and you can hear it here.