Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Brighter Thinking

brighter thinking from the start
brighter thinking like a moon
brighter thinking in blue
brighter thinking within a doubt
brighter thinking before the fall
brighter thinking than you could
brighter thinking to spare a thought
brighter thinking too late
brighter thinking plays its blues
brighter thinking inside a darkness
brighter thinking asking that question
brighter thinking beyond
brighter thinking sipped from a cup
brighter thinking instead of light
brighter thinking without looking
brighter thinking managing itself
brighter thinking for as long as it takes
brighter thinking unread
brighter thinking about Ray
brighter thinking surprised by itself
brighter thinking wiping its smile
brighter thinking undressed
brighter thinking at the touch
brighter thinking on/off
brighter thinking whenever the end

Friday, 26 September 2014

Link of Chain - A Songwriters Tribute to Chris Smither

Tribute Point

I like tribute albums. I like the idea. I like it when the talented artist honoured is honoured by other talented artists. I guess you get the point.

So a tribute album to the great guitarist and singer-songwriter Chris Smither by a host of similar is going to be a winner, and is. At times it's the artist and version that pleases; at others it's mainly the covering artist. Sometimes it's all about the interpretation; at others it's when there is a recognisable echo - something that strikes you as authentic. Neither is better than the other.

The opening two performers Dave Alvin and Loudon Wainwright III delight of themselves [accepting it will always be the song covered as well]. Third Mary Gauthier and I Feel The Same is the first tribute symbiosis that strikes me as such. Fifth Paul Cebor offers up an initially idiosyncratic version of No Love Today, but it then settles into what becomes a common approach across a number of these Smither tracks: a distinct element of swing. Seventh, Jorma Kaukonan, is the first wholly acoustic reflection of a Smither song Leave The Light On. Eighth is a gorgeous folk version of Small Revelations by Aoife O'Donovan and Stephanie Coleman, new to me. Tim O'Brien on ninth Origin of Species proffers another swinging tilt [clarinet and yodeling], and tenth is Bonnie Raitt providing a live version of probably the most famous cover of a Smither song [which is by her] with Love Me Like a Man. I'll mention eleventh, Paul Mulvey's cover of Time to Spend, because this is another swing offering [bluegrass swing, perhaps].

I hadn't intended to go through most of the tracks, but as I have more or less done so: twelfth is Song for Susan, and a lovely harmony infused performance by Mark Erelli and Jefferey Foucault. I like Peter Case's fourteenth track Caveman because I rather like Peter Case. The fifteenth and last track is Train Home, covered here by Patty Larkin - again new to me - and it is a wonderful echoing guitar blues, a blues one would have expected to hear more of above the swing leanings.

Hot on the heals of Smither's own cover of his songs, Still On The Levee, this various artists offering is a further welcome feast of Chris. Not the greatest last-line tribute, but I guess you get the point.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Johnny Winter - Step Back

True Blues

This is a fine generic blues album, a tribute to the greatness of Johnny Winter rather than an example of his greatness, understandably in the frailty of his age and health at the time of recording. What it does convey without question is the integrity of Winter's blues embrace over all the years of his premier performance of the genre. Another generic quality of the album is its guest list, those who trade vocal and guitar licks with the great man: Ben Harper, Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Leslie West and Joe Bonamassa [on a classy Sweet Sixteen] to name a few other greats. Producer and JW band guitarist Paul Nelson also provides significant lead, and I recall when Johnny played Exeter a few years ago how Nelson then opened the set with an instrumental stormer. He can be heard to the fore on a wonderful version of the classic Killing Floor. Johnny's vocal is low and gruff and, well, full of true blues.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Joe Bonamassa - Different Shades of Blue

Blues Bracelet

All eleven tracks are self-penned, with friends, and there are some familiar echos, for example Hendrix on opening swift instrumental Hey Baby [New Rising Sun], and Zappa/Juicy Lucy aka Willie the Pimp on second Oh Beautiful. It's a heavyish start, thank goodness. I'm sure I've written before: Bonamassa is a prodigious talent and artist maturing all the time, and his heavy blues is always tinged with melody in the way Clapton at his best always achieved. The wah-wah guitar soloing on Oh Beautiful is as the title says. Horns pump up the funk [and we know JB likes his funk] on third Love Ain't A Love Song, whilst fourth Living On The Moon has the horns blowing more rock blues. Fifth Heartache Follows Me Wherever I Go keeps the horns caressing the blues, and there is a great guitar solo in this one, forgiving the platitude. Eighth track is the title song and it is an emotive blues ballad with pop leanings and Bonamassa in fine voice as well as playing. The album's final two songs embrace the whole perfectly: tenth Trouble Town is a pumped-up horn surge of a blues romp, and closer So, What Would I Do is a slowed blues-gospel lament where Joe again shows that his vocal chops have grown to match the guitar prowess he's always shown, sounding a little like Michael McDonald at times but at a slightly higher register. Wall to wall, start to finish, a to z: another gem in the expanding Bonamassa blues bracelet.

Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams

Like It

Some quick reviews as I am still examining, had a wonderful wedding to attend, the garden has needed attention: will start with an easy one, as Adams delivers again, this perhaps more upbeat overall compared with his previous. The opening songs are electric and what strikes me immediately is the simplicity of the chord sequencing, but the perfection also of these in equally simple but effective melody and playing. Bits of echo and organ accompaniment, as on first Gimme Something Good. Second Kim has a slick rhythmic chord sequence, leading to the extended rhyming with Kim, the name after which she is being rued in this love-loss, to be with him, Kim. Third Trouble is a little more rock anthemic, but again straightforward in the playing - class shining off any surface: not too bright, but hardly dull. Fourth Am I Safe is the first acoustic song, sweetly strummed [this is a guitar album....], and it's fifth My Wrecking Ball, again acoustic, where Adams' signature sound is also firstly heard, repetitions of lyrics in the chorus consolidating an overall sense of wholeness [I am extemporising as I listen, so not convinced that quite grabs it, but come and knock me down if you will]. Sixth returns to electric guitar swathes for Stay With Me. And a Springsteen-esque ninth I Just Might. A very listenable album all the way through. I like it. Considerably.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Billy Childs - Map to the Treasure Reimagining Laura Nyro

 Asserting Brilliance

What’s not to excite and like: phenomenal songs; stellar cast; heartfelt homage? Laura Nyro’s intense and emotive pop/soul originals will not be bettered, but the interpretations refracted through both Billy Childs’ jazz overview and varying artists’ expertise are bound to dazzle. And they do, every time. Opener New York Tendaberry with soprano RenĂ©e Fleming and cellist Yo-Yo Ma embraces the pop pomp with palpable emotion; fourth Upstairs By a Chinese Lamp has Esperanza Spalding’s voice dancing romantically with Wayne Shorter’s saxophone across Child’s lush piano floor; fifth Been on a Train is graced with the empathetic street-sass vocal of Rickie Lee Jones, and sixth Stoned Soul Picnic [such a classic song] gets a beautiful soulful update from the singer Ledisi – breaking into jazz-funk when moving beyond those further lush orchestrations. 

It simply continues brilliantly, but I just paused for breath. Seventh is the glorious Gibson Street sung as a powerful jazz ballad by Susan Tedeschi, sans guitar, and the album closes on tenth And When I Die with Alison Krauss contributing her distinctive gentle vocal caress, and Jerry Douglas providing his trademark dobro – this Country pair adding to the ample evidence that Nyro’s songwriting asserts itself powerfully and movingly within any presentation.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Nashville Outlaws (A Tribute To Motley Crue)

Twang Rock

As I've said before, some of the finest rock music is current Country rock, so you can imagine my positive expectations of this 'Nashville' tribute to Motley Crue, a band I don't really know that much about musically. I'd say that expectation is met half way by this collection which is overall simply sound rollicking rock fun, with twang. The two spunkiest rock numbers are in fact delivered by the ladies: the often exquisite LeeAnn Rimes who delivers a scorching version of Smokin' In The Boys Room [with far-out trombone accompaniment, and some slide], and Gretchen Wilson on Wild Side, though Gretchen usually belts it out anyway. The other distinctive cover is by The Mavericks and their Peter Gunn guitar version of Dr Feelgood. And we'll take our cue from that track to summarise this covers excursion: it is feel-good heavy Country fare. Beware that some is just Country, like Justin Moore's Home Sweet Home; but then there is the modern outlaw bombast of Brantley Gilbert's Girls Girls Girls.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

ODi - two releases: Maslow's Songbook and A Superman


Let’s start with ODi at their best: live. If you read my review of their gig at the Boston Tea Party, you’ll know how highly I rate them. If you want to see them performing live, check out their performance of The Devil’s Dance on their Facebook page [or see them on tour!]. And it is this live, acoustic sound and where they are now musically that informs my review and thoughts on the cds Maslow’s Songbook and A Superman.

The 2009 cd Maslow’s Songbook seems the beginning of a musical search for identity where the songs and performance are polished and pleasing in their ‘indie’ mode, the first three solidly slotted into that well-crafted pop sensibility. Because my introduction to this duo was an intimate live gig, that more expansive sound is less expected, and as songs on this cd move to more acoustic and ‘solo’ performances I hear their current musical identity much more.

Opener Red Light showcases Claire Odlum’s strong vocal, and the indie arrangement here, both instrumental and vocal harmonies, provides a good example of the polish I have mentioned. Second Something Beautiful was, as described at their recent live gig, a hit in Turkey where the song’s positive lyrics struck a chord in a country needing an upbeat outlet. This has a less affected [arrangement-wise] and therefore purer sound compared with Red Light, the chorus - with indie guitar work - prettily singalongable.

By the fourth track Make It Better, Odlum is singing essentially solo over a piano core and occasional string accompaniment. The apparent simplicity in production here again showcases the vocal and the songcraft in the way an acoustic set necessarily does as well. With Odlum writing RL and MIB, and Dave Redfearn writing SB, it is clear to see the important partnership shared by these two.

Sixth One In A Million, written by Daniel and Emily Norton, is more in the Americana vein that seems to be their natural niche, and played solo is most effective with Redfearn picking an almost-blues riff on guitar and the dual harmony on the chorus carrying it sweetly; here, it is still a powerful arrangement, especially the latter violin and vocal harmonising, that violin also playing the main riff and the simple stomp beat thrusting it forward.

Seventh I’m Done is again acoustic with a simple percussive beat driving the melody along and into its sweet harmonies. Ninth You Win But You Lose is also acoustic and therefore again showcases Odlum’s fulsome vocal. It must be clear how I prefer these acoustic leanings, but that is simply preference and the overall musical quality is such a powerful indication of an emerging talent now hopefully gaining greater recognition. 

A Superman is an ep ironically released a year before MS but seems more ‘current’ to the sound of ODi now, or certainly live [well, it does contain two live tracks!]. The title song on cd has a full Americana sound [my term to distinguish from ‘indie’ as working tags simply to help me define] and as so much of what makes ODi excellent is when Claire’s vocal is thoroughly to the fore. The orchestral sweep that rises as the cd track progresses does add a melodramatic weight which is certainly not in any way ineffective [that is dangerously like faint praise, I know]. What I will always recall is how strong the melody of this song struck me when played acoustically and quite delicately, so it’s a comparative preference for the latter.

Second What You Deserve is another fine Odlum song, and its gentle guitar work from Redfearn as well as accompanying harmony provides, for me, the template for what appeals most. Third, the Redfearn song Tears and Wine, is a lovely melody, played beautifully and sung gorgeously and is a genuine gem. There is an echo of Rickie Lee Jones, perhaps more in the songwriting than the vocal, but this is a complimentary link.  You can check it out on the ODi Facebook page as well.

From what the duo say on Facebook and at the gig I saw, there is an imminent release which will contain some of this early work, and the tour itself is a way of testing what will form a contemporary reflection of their distinctive sound. It is clear what my preferences would be, but whatever is ultimately collected and added to afresh, I will be keen to hear and to hope there is a wider audience for this memorable duo.