Saturday, 31 January 2015

Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Night, album review

Pedal-steel Lounge

A light and languid take on Sinatra by Dylan in his reflective years, a paean from one great to another across a time that I think separates more than combines. There are two distinctive aspects musically: Dylan’s voice is a delicate, even tender growl compared with the ripped shreds of more recent personal offerings; the lounge orchestrations [OK, pedal-steel lounge] make it very much a dining-room with cocktails listen. I’ve read reverential reviews that seem to mistake legendary status for a sustainable badge across whatever is contemporary. In the fad that is aging rock icons visiting a ‘great’ songbook, this is fine enough in that usually commercial genre, and I respect Dylan’s intentions enough as honourable in their homage. Individual songs can resonate in their interpretation, like I'm A Fool To Want You and What'll I Do, but not as a lackluster whole, and it would never be more than background aural massaging for me, perhaps after a hard spell of head-banging, or getting high on some original psychedelia.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Sam Piper - Lucid Dreaming, EP review

Acoustic Narrative

In reviewing Southwest/Exeter band Witterquick recently I referenced some of the members’ previous incarnation [not all from this], the band Electric Skies. Another former member Sam Piper is also carrying on to make an impact musically, and whilst he continues to rock in a band [The Delta Sound, and The Mocking Birds: I can’t keep up with the breadth, but I also reviewed him live here], it is his acoustic EP Lucid Dreaming – available to hear on soundcloud – I will review.

There are four unadorned, acoustic tracks and they play a delicate linear narrative. What I mean is the pitch is controlled by a thoughtful, perhaps introspective range rather than seeking to push and shove. Or I could just reiterate it is acoustic. First track Give Me a Reason is a slow finger-plucked song riding its open vista on a hushed but clear lyrical warning about being ‘justified’, the soft supporting female vocal and background synth a perfect tandem. Second My Saint has a similar refrained lyrical assertion ‘show them you’re a fighter’, and a strummed guitar raises the rhythm slightly, but sustains that calm control. Third Bright Lights, Big City, reviewed in the live gig, is a bluesy ballad with more subtle guitar plucking. Closer Someday furthers the subdued but ultimately affecting tone because that pitch has been so consistently fine in its construction and performance. Here, the solo chord sequence a third of the way in is beautifully simple, and the rising close with the attending female vocal support draws the four songs to a coherent whole. A delicate whole.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

John Martyn - Six Years Today [11th September, 1948 - 29th January, 2009]

Music Survives

Just another voice in the wilderness
Just another cry for peace
Just another voice full of loneliness
Just another prayer for release
Look up! Look out! Look in! Look all about
Look everywhere but look at yourself
Hold on! Hold up! Hold out! Hang in
Please everyone, but please yourself
And try to make the world a better loving, living peaceful place.

[from Look In, 1973]

Chris Smither - Happier Blue, album review

Always Superb

Currently listening to this superb Smither album - well, they all are - from 1993. It is dominated by his trademark blues inclinations, and that includes his great guitar playing and foot tapping, but it is also a little different to his usual fare with a number of orchestrations, most prettily with the violin accompaniment and playing of Robin Batteau, and also the saxophone contributions from Bob Gay. I have written before of Smither's first two and early albums which were very much in the folk vein, and featuring a beautiful warble in his vocal, a vocal subsequently and contemporaryly renown for its deep texture. As a particular fan of that 70s phase, I do warm to seventh track on this album, the Rollie Salley song Killin' the Blues in which Smither resurrects, to a degree, that warbling voice. Distinctive bass playing on this track too by Mark Egan.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Tigran Hamasyan - Shadow Theater, album review


This beautiful and brash album from Armenian, American resident Tigran Hamasyan combines virtuoso piano playing across a range of genres and then injections of Armenian folk song, jazz and classical motifs, electronic pulses and other paraphernalia, and at times exquisite vocals from Hamasyan himself and Areni Agbabian, solo and choric. You can be drifting aurally along a sweet folkesque melody and then abruptly shifted by pounding rock beats; or similarly as with second track Erista, lullaby-like tinklings and sudden progrock disruptions. It is playful as well as powerful. Third Lament begins with classical strings and an operatic/folk-pretty vocal, the peacefulness like a musical meditation, and this continues to sweep and soar without a genre interruption, so the surprise of not being surprised – certainly on that first listen – delights: knowing, it is an expectant calm. Fourth Drip immediately threatens with pounded staccato piano beats, and then there are sax bursts with bass-and-effects jazz elements, the vocals merging into clever collections. The whole album continues with these consummate and magical musical manipulations. Can’t wait for the imminent release of Mockroot.

Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear [sort of...]

Clever Teases

It's been a fun morning with two fine examples of tease: the first, this set of 'poetry' questions from Martin Stannard here; and then Father John Misty's [Josh Tillman] genuinely serious joke of releasing free the musical backdrop to his forthcoming album - so no vocals - with this explanation:

I am pleased to introduce SAP, a new signal-to-audio process by which popular albums are "sapped" of their performances, original vocal, atmosphere and other distracting affectations so the consumer can decide quickly and efficiently whether they like a musical composition, based strictly on its formal attributes, enough to spend money on it. SAP files sound incredible when compressed and streamed at low resolutions over any laptop speaker or cell phone. They are cheap to produce and take up even less space than the average MP3. They contain just enough meta-data to be recognized by sophisticated genre aggregation software. Everything you love about discovering and sharing free music, minus the cost to anyone: artist or fan.

You can read more about this offering here, and there are also video clips of live performances of his songs here, so vocals included, and as I write today it is definitely contemporary with a joke about being snowed in, and also an ad lib about someone in the audience holding his hand as if it was Ed Sheeran's.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

John the Conqueror - The Good Life. album review


I reviewed this band's debut album here, and you know, the same applies: it is the blues which doesn't range far from its most obvious territory, and this being the case musically there doesn't seem much point in ranging further afield in acknowledging this in writing. So, ditto. Ditto funky. Ditto cool. Ditto blues. Ditto done well.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Ryley Walker - 'Primrose Green' (Official Audio)

I do predict that the release of Walker's full album at the end of March will be a wonderfully nostalgic echo of the past. This title track release is so clearly influenced by the likes of early John Martyn [the nod to Martyn's own Primrose Hill merely in wording says something, surely] and there are also doffs to Steve Tilston, Burt Jansch, Tim Buckley and so on in this one offering. An earlier and not surprisingly similar celebration of his work can be found on this blog here.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Colosseum - Time On Our Side, album review

Blues and Echos

This 2014 release from Colosseum, a few years in the making, isn’t the jazzrock echo of their 70s’ brilliance, but it is a bluesy reincarnation that resonates with some sense of history and reminds essentially what a great band it is, albeit the clientele having changed somewhat – Dick Heckstall-Smith with us no more, for example. Barbara Thompson, who had played with the earlier band and is of course married to drummer Jon Hiseman, takes on the saxophone duties and there are many sweet riffs as on opener Safe as Houses, a title embracing the band’s essence. Chris Farlowe is a wonderfully familiar growl across a number of the songs. Clem Clempson, who released his own fine solo album recently and reviewed here, Dave Greenslade and Mark Clarke continue as core members. Dick’s Licks is a fine tribute [I’m guessing], with Thompson playing her own swing blues, and there is a closing live version of Jack Bruce’s Morning Glory that has its own special echo, and great Thompson playing. One of the ‘prettier’ tracks is a lovely vocal harmony infused song City of Love. There are sweet combined guitar and sax lines to open, as well as guitar solo, and Farlowe injects his own distinctive vocal gravitas to his solo singing within the whole.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Hayseed Dixie - Hair Down To My Grass, album review

Hoot Not Hoedown

A novelty idea when they first hit the music scene whenever that was, and fun enough still though I think there are many more in a similar vein with their rockgrass interpretations, and indeed the whole expanding genre of musical pastiche and transformations. In many ways the rock versions here are not bluegrass-spun enough for me and are instead slightly-skewed-grass alternatives [Livin' On A Prayer a good example]. I wanted Comfortably Numb to be outrageous, but it's quite a pretty rendition with a lightly whirling fiddle in the background. The mandolin break is well played, but it is just a mandolin break. There is one vocal shriek.

Perhaps the grass instead of ass 'joke' is an indication of a softening approach? Play for some background fun, but don't expect paroxysms of uncontrollable bodily hoedowning, though seeing live I'd imagine is a hoot.

Marilyn Manson - The Pale Emperor, album review

Those Beats, Those Beats

I know little of Marilyn Manson’s back catalogue, but I know I liked some songs before getting weary from the repeat sounds in his latest The Pale Emperor: the chugging [work-songish] opener Killing Strangers; second, stormer Deep Six with a hint of Billy Idol in the vocal; third, great-named Third Day of a Seven Day Binge where the dirge distortions continue and here reminding of Mark Lanegan; fourth, The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles where that chugging pace has become the thread beneath the thudding lite-metal material, drums pounding out a beat as if Adam Ant was marching through as the bandit stealing a little precursor kudos, and into fifth Warship My Wreck where some light orchestration and piano invokes something I can’t quite locate from the 80s and probably why I fast-forwarded to the next, Slave Only Dreams To Be King, where drums pound out another syncopated beat. And so it continues, rather repetitive and those beats too much the same dreariness.

I’ll need to spend more time listening closely to the lyrics [should I decide to persevere], and there is an interesting feature interview with Manson in The Observer Magazine, commenting, for example, on the lyrics Killing Strangers and possible links to reflecting on the Columbine shootings for which Manson was at the time hysterically linked as a potential catalyst because of his songs.