Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Ida Sand - Young at Heart, album review

In Sand's Hands

Didn’t feel I would dislike – the songs have their own form - but had obvious doubts about a whole album of mostly Neil Young covers. After a first full listen I am drawn agreeably to these jazz[y] interpretations/renditions, Swedish chanteuse Ida Sand’s fulsomely smooth vocal glossing the tunes with respectful depths. That jazz infusion is more in instrumental accompaniments rather than the singing where Sand avoids overtly unusual phrasings, as with the fine tenor saxophone solo by Per Texas Johansson on Harvest Moon. There is funky wah-wah guitar by Olaf Gustafsson on Woodstock [Joni Mitchell], the background soulgospel chorus accompaniment adding umph. Opener Cinnamon Girl is perhaps the most defined as interpretation where the pace has been slowed and the wah-wah guitar joined with keyboards by Jasper Nordenström leads to an effects-driven solo on either of these [not sure which].

The ultimate personal test is on covers of Only Love Can Break Your Heart and Ohio, the former getting clearance as it keeps things simple, the melody doing the natural work and Sand supported with a light harmony vocal as well as fellow Swede Nils Landgren on smooth trombone; and the latter just about passes with more adventurous loops on that trombone deflecting somewhat from the song’s meaning: that’s me being precious, but the song has this kind of personal significance and I’m less inclined to revel in its experimental appropriation.

Overall though, an honest and engaging representation of Young’s [with a few others'] songcraft and its durability in the hands of another.

Motorcycle Music 5

...who also appeared in the Cars section

Richie Furay - Hand in Hand, album review


Richie Fury – Buffalo Springfield, Poco, Souther-Hillman-Furay Band – has released his latest solo album to celebrate his many years in the countryrock business, as well as 48 years of marriage to wife Nancy who appears with him on the album’s front cover in their wedding photo. Opening track We Were the Dreamers sets out that rejoicing stall with all the musical requisites perfectly in place [sweet harmonies, Country-inflected tune and rock guitars] and a punchy lyric about being at the forefront of the genre in those early days and doing it all for fun. I’ll happily accept that premise, and the next track Hand in Hand, written about Nancy, is a further generic gem to consolidate the musical promise.

It is an earnest album overall, reflecting at times his Christian commitments as a preacher, and also some twee patriotism in the track Don’t Tread on Me, a sentiment I accept as honest but find cloying in its clichés.

There is a bright version of his former hit Kind Woman – written for wife Nancy when playing with Buffalo Springfield but actually released with second band Poco [*] – and it features guest vocals from both Neil Young and Kenny Loggins. The album closes on Love at First Sight featuring Richie’s daughter Jesse Furay Lynch, a reprise of the song which is also the seventh track. You cannot knock the simple honesties in Furay’s love of family, country and other factors that make him feel so happy and content, though some may find it all a little too quaint. 

[*] please see Comments for clarification on this, with apologies for the error

Other Vehicular Music 6

Jesse Malin - New York Before the War, album review


You’ll be expecting punkrock or justrock, but not on first track which is a pretty, piano-led ballad The Dreamers, and when the chorus kicks in with female vocal accompaniment there is a wistfulness to the sound. Second Addicted isn’t quite into rock gear yet – not even garage – and is more upbeat-lite as it reminisces on music in the past, and this harking back further than one would imagine Jesse truly grew up to with its rock’n’roll pop sensibility.

Third Turn Up the Mains turns up the pace and rocks to the latter Rolling Stones template. It’s fourth Oh Sheena that drives into more expected Malin territory, the punky jauntiness and Jesse’s distinctive tenor-whine sounding familiar. But still anchored by a pop production. Fifth She’s So Dangerous is such a sweet starter, just Jesse and guitar before the band join in this slow chug of a song, organ and harmony vocal a slight buffer in the background before it builds to the piano rolls. Wistful again. Guitars then wail and build too and the emotion of the song is palpable.

This is followed by The Year That I Was Born which in its folk simplicity confirms how much this is a songwriter’s album, and one reflecting on the past, musically and lyrically. It’s not until eighth Freeway that we are back on rockier ground. Tenth She Don’t Love Me Now is an R&B melody reflecting brightly, and ironically, on losing love. It’s on eleventh Death Star that we get a feel of that expected New York punkrock.

The album closes on thirteenth Bar Life, Malin in storytelling mode, and it is the most developed song on the album, the wistfulness here in the persona’s reflecting on a life lived, and what seems acceptance rather than regret.

Not a rocker then overall, but this is a mature and melancholy grasp of the real with occasional pop celebrations, bookended by two excellently crafted songs, performed with sincerity.

I got to see Jesse Malin play the Cavern in Exeter some years ago now, a small venue with an appreciative crowd where he rocked the house. He has clearly grown and moved on, but then, don’t we all. 

Monday, 30 March 2015

Motorcycle Music 4

Robin Trower [with support Joanne Shaw Taylor], Town Hall, Birmingham - 28th March, 2015


The gig was everything I had hoped for and expected: Joanne Shaw Taylor is a fine and feisty guitarist, and her singing has a raunchy, Americanised-Solihull tone. This was then a ‘local’ performance for her, and some of the extended guitar solos were of the excellent kind only someone truly proficient and playing live can deliver.

Robin Trower is without question a legend and he also delivered with his trademark mellow, feedback-held guitar work. Many of the songs were tight, rock-riff performances, but the gems were inevitably Daydream and Bridge of Sighs where the extended delicate solos were sublime.

He was ably supported by drummer Chris Taggart and bassist/main vocalist Richard Watts. No one could replace the vocal of James Dewar from those earliest recordings, but Watts’ singing is a fine, husky fit. I have a few bootlegs of recent US performances from this trio, and Watt’s singing is very much to the fore, as it should be, but for this Birmingham gig it seemed a little too distant in the mix. A shame.

But none of this detracted from Trower’s finesse and fire when playing. At 70, he would seem not to have lost any of his distinctive skills, nor the enjoyment of playing: mixed in with the facial contortions of his empathetic fretwork were countless smiles as he turned to the band or to the audience. Trower can obviously be content with the musical legacy he has acquired, and he certainly seems at perfect ease with playing still today. What a pleasure to experience.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Back of Cars Music

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell, album review


Sufjan Stevens’ latest beautiful album is both painful and pretty as it recalls a mother, Carrie, who left him as a child but re-entered his life with a step-father, Lowell, who took an interest in and supported Stevens’ musical ambitions as he grew up.

The album reminisces on his mother’s leaving and, more lamentably, her recent death. Whilst cathartic, it is full of the guilt and pain that comes with regret about being unable to change the past, and the grappling with understanding it. All of this is couched within the prettiest of melodies and harmonies as well as Stevens’ sweetly electronic pop orchestrations and plucked acoustic guitar or banjo. He has an uncanny ability to juxtapose the most explicit and/or poignant detail with the soothing beauty of these melodies, as he did stunningly in one of his earliest songs about serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr, and then on this album in All of Me Wants All of You,

Shall we beat this or celebrate it?
You’re not the one to talk things through
You checked your texts while I masturbated
Menelich, I feel so used

and then another on this startling album, Fourth of July, where the brutal poetry of the lyrics are once again cushioned within the gorgeous tune

The evil it spread like a fever ahead
It was night when you died, my firefly
What could I have said to raise you from the dead?
Oh could I be the sky on the Fourth of July?

Well you do enough talk
My little hawk, why do you cry?
Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn?
Or the Fourth of July?
We’re all gonna die

Sitting at the bed with the halo at your head
Was it all a disguise, like Junior High
Where everything was fiction, future, and prediction
Now, where am I? My fading supply

Did you get enough love, my little dove
Why do you cry?
And I’m sorry I left, but it was for the best
Though it never felt right
My little Versailles

The hospital asked should the body be cast
Before I say goodbye, my star in the sky
Such a funny thought to wrap you up in cloth
Do you find it all right, my dragonfly?

Shall we look at the moon, my little loon
Why do you cry?
Make the most of your life, while it is rife
While it is light

Well you do enough talk
My little hawk, why do you cry?
Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn?
Or the Fourth of July?
We’re all gonna die

Once you have listened to this and then the next, The Only Thing, we too are fully a part of that most uncomfortable juxtaposition. It is difficult to recommend that someone else shares in this, but I think you should.

The penultimate song on this album No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross is another beautifully caustic rumination on the meaning of death, containing the line Like my mother/Give wings to a stone/It's only the shadow of a cross.