Thursday, 30 November 2017

Declan O'Rourke - Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine, album review

Beautifully Darker

Such beautiful darkness, Declan O’Rourke’s musical re-telling of the Irish famine is hauntingly pretty on so many occasions, as with penultimate track The Great Saint Lawrence River that tells the tale of a passage of escape full of death and despair – in their thousands they will perish there as well as they are more like ghosts than living things just before the song comes to an end in a howl with violin. But this is also performed throughout in the most luscious of Irish folk tropes.

Inspired by John O’Conner’s book The Workhouse of Ireland, this album has been fifteen years in its full creation. Opener Clogmen’s Glen presents a time of hardship before the famine where a pastoral scene is set to signal a harsh but beautiful life lived nonetheless – do you remember when my love, do you remember when we were young and life was hard but beautiful in Clogman’s Glen, the lamenting violin as poignantly emotive as a musical instrument can possibly be. The next track Along the Western Seaboard is immediately into the horrific history of the famine, a desperate prayer about starvation and disease and death where Britannia rules the roost with an iron hand – an unanswered plea to the Lord they have no one now but you. Fourth track Poor Boy’s Shoes is a love story, initially more upbeat musically, but it too is a narrative of young hope turned to disaster because of the hunger and starvation, the song slowing to its close as it recounts the death of the couple’s two children and the third’s disability with the final line of poor boy’s shoes unashamedly shrouding us in the despair of a father and child’s demise.

When Leonard Cohen asserted on his last you want it darker he presented a more visceral version of a horrible world in one sense, but O’Rourke’s is no less caustic though it is often wrapped in such sweet music. 

Hands Music 32

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Peter Hammill - From the Trees, album review

The Bogeyman You Feared Laid Bare

In another space I might have played a better hand Hammill sings in opening track My Unintended and so begins these signature songs, musically intimate and lyrically candid about life and ageing. You might as well surrender the advancing years that are coming up ahead he intones in his directly emotive vocal on second Reputation where he considers – well, as the title tells us, and concludes but none of that will matter come the day when all the psychic armour you wore falls away.

The narratives and simple yet distinctive deliveries, mainly guitar and piano with overdubbed vocals, cannot be separated from one another – obviously – but for Hammill the connection is more intense than with most in that signature import which makes his music so immediately identified for candour and a songcraft that is complex but no slave to prettiness or similar for its own sake.

That said about the musicality, and not as well as I’d like, a song like What Lies Ahead is beautifully plaintive though also theatrical: a just-sung narrative and a majestic chorus which continues to rise and gel with the storytelling into the very prettiness I decried, but of course here it is not for its own sake – it is like a musical sermon on living and life. Following song Anagnorisis is most like Van Der Graaf Generator in its sound and most like the intent of the whole album’s revelations in its title. Torpor is an amalgam of both lyrical heaviness and sweetness of sound, another choric accompaniment mixing the dark and light. It is beautiful to listen to if ironic in its torpid outlook,

Torpor rolls upon me in a fog
Settles like a sweat upon the skin
Hungers for the lungs to empty
Breathe the darkness in

Heavily the day hangs on a thread
Loaded on my shoulders hour by hour
Each unfolding moment holds me
Deep down in its power

Much is, as I have said, theatrical and I would guess you either like or do not. For me it is all as monogrammed with Hammill’s brilliance as his work ever was.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Happy Birthday Jimi

Stone Free: A Tribute to Jime Hendrix [Various Artists] - an appreciation

Cover Concerns

Because I have been compiling a Hendrix 'covered' for the car, prompted by two JH 'jazz' collections I have been listening to, and because I have today listened and copied to the collection from this excellent album of Hendrix covers where there isn't a single bad track - and there are some very bad Hendrix covers out there. And because he was born on his day in 1942.

Allmusic has described it as a confused album with some tracks predictably rote. Just another opinion, but I don't see how it is 'confused'. It is on a number of occasions 'rote' but in many ways I don't want a cover to stray too far, and I think these more 'predictable' versions are successful in as much as they re-present the excellence of the original. Semantics? I know it sounds like it, but that's not the case for me. That said, when I re-read my selection of favs I realised I have picked those which have a distinctive take...

Yes, Hendrix is best for Hendrix, but as a tribute album, Stone Free is I think the finest and I remember when it first came out in 1993 how much I enjoyed then, as now.

Contents with an asterisk for my personal favourites, though I'll repeat I like them all:

01. Purple Haze - The Cure *
02. Stone Free - Eric Clapton
03. Spanish Castle Magic - Spin Doctors
04. Red House - Buddy Guy
05. Hey Joe - Body Count
06. Manic Depression - Seal and Jeff Beck
07. Fire - Nigel Kennedy *
08. Bold as Love - Pretenders
09. You Got Me Floatin' - P.M. Dawn *
10. I Don't Live Today - Slash, Paul Rodgers and Band of Gypsies
11. Are You Experienced? - Belly
12. Crosstown Traffic - Living Colour
13. Third Stone from the Sun - Pat Metheny *
14. Hey Baby (Land of the New Rising Sun) - M.A.C.C.*

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Hotel California - Eagles, brief appreciation

Lushly Mature

Just listening to the newly remastered Hotel California and of course I have always known how good it is but when listening to the Eagles over the years I have tended to earlier albums, following the nostalgia of first discovery and the albums I bought at the time – HC never one on its actual release.

The songs reflect a maturity of thought, as in the oft-cited and analysed title song, though I think its meaning is quite straightforward in observing an American culture that has not changed one jot since the song’s writing, and how it never was any different, but only imagined it could be, in fact, before 1969

So I called up the Captain,
'Please bring me my wine'
He said, 'we haven't had that spirit here since nineteen sixty-nine'
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say"

Having always warmed to the easy charms of luscious harmonies, especially in favourite Desperado [review here], the songs on this album are largely meatier constructs, like The Last Resort, but I have also been reminded today of how equally beautiful is a song like Try and Love Again, a Randy Meisner write. 

Two Faces Music 16

Angelica Rockne - Queen of San Antonio, album review

Country Infusion Imperative

This is an excellent release from a singer new to me, a country-infused take on great melody, singing and strong rock echoes.

All eight tracks are finely crafted and the pedal steel of Pete Grant is an apt accompaniment to those more Country tunes, Rockne’s warm vocal both sweet and strong, second Whiskey Men a good example of both as the song shifts from its balladic opening to a honkey tonk, and one lineage from Emmylou would not go amiss as referencing – I like the vocal ensemble at its end.

Third Smoke When It’s Raining is a beautiful song and here I hear a little Ricki Lee though the gorgeous chorus of harmony [Lea Thomas] and that gliding pedal steel add their distinctive benchmarks. Then comes fourth Glitter Rags which is a wonderful 60s-esque folkrock number, keys by Ryan Brodie and the guitar over pedal steel by Blake Severn and I’m hearing Skin Alley in one of their instrumental travels, Brodie returning with a fuzzed solo. I do like this track.

Sixth Meet Your Master seems to pay its homage to Neil Young, and as ever these references are to signpost the good company some good artists keep. There’s more fuzz on closer Baby and Rockne asserts her Country-fine vocal again, further vocals joining in the excellence, including ‘high oo’ from producer Tim Green.

Get it – that’s an imperative – here